The Case of The Painted Girl
In which the mystery of a strange abduction is solved and Gloom fights his last duel with the Giger.
WHEN Slick Stevens and his confederates dragged Jimmy Harrison out of her room at Colley Grange, Myra Livingstone gave up hope. She knew that nothing short of a miracle could save Jimmy’s life. She was equally certain that prompt steps would be taken to remove her out of Inspector Gloom’s reach. There was not the slightest chance for either of them.
She wished now that she had taken the risk and used the revolver when she had the opportunity. Even if she had wounded Jimmy, she might have been able to keep the others at bay. But regrets were just as futile as hopes. She lay on the bed. dry-eyed, dry-throated, listening breathlessly for the sound of the shot that would herald Jimmy’s death.
She heard no sound. But shortly Slick Stevens returned, grim and purposeful. The silvered barrel of a hypodermic syringe glittered in his hand.
“We re going for a ride, girlie.” he said, as she sprang from the bed. "(jive me your arm.”
He caught her hand. She was too dispirited to struggle much, and in a moment she felt the sting of the needle. The stab of pain acted as a mental tonic. It was cowardly to give way like this. Surely there was something she could do?
W hat have you done with Mr. Harrison?” she asked tensely, wondering if she could catch Stevens unawares and grab the nistol she knew he carried under his left arm.
“He’ll get what's coming to him soon enough,” he replied, pushing her roughly back on the bed. “You go to sleep like a good girl and you’ll take no harm.”
He left the room quickly, locking the door behind him. It was no good fighting; there was nothing she could do. Myra lay staring miserably at the ceiling: and soon the warm drowsiness of the drug overcame her.
She had a confused impression of being carried downstairs later and deposited in a car among several other people. The fresh night air and the swaying motion of the swiftly driven car sent her to sleep. She awakened into dreary, uncomprehending discomfort when someone dragged her. none too gently, from the car, and half carried, half supported her into the dimly lit hall of a strange house.
She had no idea where she was, and her brain was not yet clear enough for her to realize fully what was happening. She did not know whether the journey had been long or short. The occasional hoot of a ship’s siren, deadened by the mist, indicated the proximity of the sea.
Scrag Rawson and another man guided her up the stairs and into a room on the second floor. As she crossed the threshold her drugged eyes opened wide in surprise.
There was another girl in the room, lying on an old sofa; a girl with a heavily painted face, dressed in some kind of white flowing robe; a girl who looked exactly as she herself had looked when Jimmy Harrison found her at Withens.
“Here’s your double. Irma,” said Scrag Rawson, pushing Myra into a chair. “She’s doped, but she’s cornin’ round a bit. Give us the office if she makes any trouble.”
He hurried out with his companion. Myra sat staring stupidly at the girl on the sofa. For a moment she had thought her brain was giving way, that the drugging had affected her to the extent of hallucination. Now she began to realize that the other girl, so like her in every respect, was solid flesh and blood.
Irma Fredoni, too, was staring hard at her double.
“My stars!” she muttered at last. "I wouldn't have believed it. A dead ringer. Say, kid, come here.”
Myra took a few faltering steps, swayed dizzily, and
stumbled on to her knees. Irma reached out a hand to prevent her falling, and studied her more closely.
“You’ve got the complexion,” she said. “My skin’s coarse, so I have to paint. Apart from that—say. what’s the big idea? What’s the Tiger doing with you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re all hopped up, aren’t you? Know Gregory Walker?”
“The Tiger bumped him off. I’ll get the swine for that some day. But I want to know what it’s all about, lie’s got some dirty scheme in mind, and I’m mixed up in it somehow or you wouldn’t be here. Listen, kid. You must know something about it. What’s his scheme?”
“I—1 don’t know.”
“The devil you don’t!” A vicious push sent Myra to the Hoor in a helpless heap. “You dirty little liar. I’ll talk to you again when the dope’s out of you. And I’ll find out what the Tiger’s game is if it’s the last thing I do!”
"K/TYRA crawled unsteadily back to the chair, fighting -*“*-*• hard against the dizziness and nausea that assailed her. She managed to pull herself up into the chair. Gradually the nausea passed; but the dizziness remained, and the room swam erratically before her eyes.
“Your boy friend’s got his, anyhow,” said Irma Fredoni with satisfaction, breaking a long silence. “Slick Stevens gave him the works before leaving Colley Grange.”
Tears trickled unheeded down Myra’s cheeks as she lay back in the chair, weakly struggling against the drug. It did not occur to her to doubt the other’s statement. She had expected it. Jimmy was dead. She wished she were dead, too.
There was another long silence. Irma Fredoni was fingering something in the folds of her white robe as she watched the door. There was tension and a strained expectancy in her attitude.
Eventually the door opened and the Tiger came in, accompanied by Scrag Rawson. In spite of her misery, Myra’s heart began to beat more quickly as she looked again at the impassive features and familiar bald head of the man she had known as Mr. Topp.
He paid no attention to her, however, but addressed himself to the girl on the sofa.
"We’ll have to move you again, Irma,” he said. “Sooner or later the police will trace that telephone call from Colley Grange. The yacht’s waiting just above the wharf. We can get you aboard as soon as you’re ready.”
"I don’t want to go,” said Irma.
“I’m afraid it will be necessary.” The Tiger glanced at his watch with a trace of anxiety. “It’s time Stevens was here. For all we know something may have gone wrong. Perhaps Harrison was lying. The police might have been nearer than he said.”
“He wasn’t lyin’, boss.” Scrag Rawson spoke with conviction. “He was too scared that his girl might be hurt. Why not phone—”
“Don’t be a fool, man. We might just as well phone Scotland Yard. I don’t feel comfortable about Stevens. It’s dangerous to wait here. The sooner we get out the better. There’s a heavy mist on the river just now. We’ll
lake the opportunity. Everything’s ready, isn’t it?” “Yes.”
“Then get Lefty and carry Irma down.”
Scrag Rawson was turning to the door when the girl on the sofa spoke.
"Stop!” The dull gleam of an automatic pistol showed in her hand. “Don't move, either of you!”
“Cripes!” Rawson's hand went to his hip. “She must ’a’ pinched it from me in the car.”
“Listen.” Irma Fredoni’s eyes were blazing. “If either of you move. I'll plug him. There’s nothing more going to be done in this dump until I know all about it. I’m not going on in the dark any longer. Come on. you bald-headed swine, spill it!”
The Tiger looked at her uncertainly.
"Don't lie foolish, Irma,” he said softly. “This is no time for explanations. With the police on our track and—” “Will you spill it or not?”
“I’ll tell you all there is to know as soon as we’re aboard the yacht. We can’t stop now to ”
The girl raised the automatic in a steady hand. Her painted features were twisted with hate.
“You croaked Gregory Walker, didn’t you? Now it’s my turn. I'll give you two minutes. If you haven’t spilled the dope by then, you’ll get yours.”
There was silence in the room. Irma Fredoni kept the two men covered with the unwavering automatic. Occasionally she glanced at her watch. Myra looked on stupidly, (only vaguely comprehending what was happening.
Time crept slowly by. The Tiger took a sudden step forward.
“Why won’t you listen to reason, Irma?” he began.
“Get back !” snapped the girl.
Her eyes had narrowed and were glittering dangerously. The Tiger advanced another step. The automatic spat flame and a bullet grazed his bald head, drawing blood.
TT WAS obvious Irma was voic-*• ing no empty threats. Her murderous intent was evident in her twisted features. As she lowered the automatic tto correct her aim, the Tiger acted. A knife suddenly materialized in his hand and flashed through the air. There was a choking gurgle, and the (girl sank back on the sofa with the knife buried in her heart.
“My God !” muttered Rawson agape. “How did that happen?”
“It’s a great pity,” said the Tiger calmly. “But she would have killed us.”
“She sure would ! Good job Slick isn’t here.”
“He was sweet on her.” Rawson went to pick up his automatic which had dropped from the dead girl's fingers. “Lord knows why. Too fierce a dame for my likin’. An’ worse since she had her accident.”
He was thrusting the pistol into his pocket when a loud knock sounded on the house door. The Tiger jumped into instant activity.
"The police'” he exclaimed. “Slick’s blundered somehow. and they’ve traced us here. We’ve got to move quickly, Scrag. The house will be surrounded. Good job the yacht’s out of dock. I'll swim out to her and arrange for hauling the boat aboard. You follow as soon as you can with these two. If you can get away before the police break in. we’ve got ’em beaten. They won’t have a chance of finding us in this mist. I’ll send Lefty up.”
He hurried from the room as the knocking was repeated. A moment later the man called Lefty ran in. He helped Scrag Rawson to drag Myra downstairs and into a cellar. Here a stone in the floor had been lifted, disclosing an opening beneath which water flowed. Myra was lowered through this into a boat where two more men were waiting.
The pounding on the house door had recommenced, and it was clear that someone was breaking it down.
“We’ll have to leave the other dame,” muttered Rawson anxiously. “They’ll be in long before we could bring her down. She’ll not tell ’em much, anyway.”
He pushed Lefty down into the boat and quickly followed. Between them they gently lowered the stone into position above their heads, then released the boat. Without a sound it drifted through a short tunnel and on to the mist-laden river.
Muffled oars were brought out, and the boat glided over the river like a grey ghost. A shout or two, vague and indistinct, came from the house they had just left.
No one spoke. Scrag Rawson looked out anxiously through the early morning murk.
The chug-chug of a police launch sounded faintly in the distance. By this time the boat was alongside a large steam yacht. A derrick had been hastily swung out from the yacht, and a rope ladder dropped. Two of the men helped Myra up the ladder, while the others fastened the ropes from the derrick to the boat. This was lifted aboard and swiftly lowered through a hatch. The men and the ladder disappeared. In a few moments no trace was left of either the boat or its fugitive occupants.
Scrag Rawson led Myra down a companionway to a large saloon, where the Tiger was removing his streaming clothes.
"We got away all right, boss.” he reported. “But we had to leave the corpse behind.”
“Why did you do that?” asked the Tiger icily. 'T told you to bring her, too.”
“We’d no choice, boss. If we’d waited another minute the cops would have got us.”
"Better to leave, her behind, perhaps, than run the risk of not getting clear away. I shall have to find some way of recovering the body.” The Tiger turned to Myra. “Welcome to the Avalon, Miss Livingstone.”
Myra shivered. The callous murder of Irma Fredoni had shocked her from her numb despair. The drug fumes were clearing from her brain, her senses becoming more alert. She knew that the yacht could not be very far from shore. She knew that the police must be near. Whatever it cost, she must scream for help. Surely someone would hear her?
The Tiger was watching her closely. He clapped a hand over her mouth as it began to open.
“Hold her, Scrag!” lie commanded. “She’s ready for another dose.”
The hypodermic syringe came into use again. A few
minutes later Myra was fast asleep, huddled in a bunk in a tiny cabin opening off the saloon in which Scrag Rawson and the Tiger sat discussing their plans.
IT WAS a long time before Myra opened her eyes again.
She knew nothing of the Tiger s attack on the ambulance and his theft of Irma Fredoni's body. She knew nothing of his masquerade in the guise of Morcutt. or how near he had been to capture. But she was awake, though quite dazed and uncomprehending, when he came aboard in the late afternoon dressed as a workman.
He entered her cabin immediately, satisfied himself that she was still under the influence of the drug, and left her.
In the saloon he discussed the recent happenings with Scrag Rawson.
“Quite an exciting day,” he said, replying to his lieutenant’s eager questions. “And on the whole very satisfactory. I think I’ll break my rule and have a drink. You managed to get Irma's body to that hut on Canvey Island without any trouble?”
"Yes. I've been liack about an hour. Lefty's watchin’ the place, an' he’s welcome to the job. Like a wilderness it is, all grey an’ dreary an' marshy. What’s the idea of cartin’ her there, boss?”
"I don’t want anyone to learn that she is dead. We couldn’t bring her aboard because the police are still watching for any sign of her on the river. But we can pick her up as we go down tonight.”
"Yes. It’s hardly safe to hang about. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a little trip. We’ll drop Irma overboard when we get well out.”
"An’ let Gloom dive for her,” grinned Rawson callously. "The poor sap.”
"Not t<x) much of that. Scrag. Gloom’s no fool.”
“Why, he can’t—”
"He managed to rescue Harrison from Colley Grange. That means he’s probably got Slick. And he nearly got me.” The Tiger related the details of his meeting with Gloom and Jimmy at the flat in Fitzgerald Square. His words were quite audible to Myra, though she was too dazed to follow them with understanding. But one astounding phrase had penetrated like a flash of lightning through her mental fog: "He managed to rescue Harrison from Colley Grange.” For a moment the mists cleared from her brain. Jimmy was alive, after all. By some miracle he had been preserved. He was working hard with Inspector Gloom to find her. For that one glorious moment intense happiness surged through her. Then the heavy drug cloud rolled back, rendering her dull and stupid as before.
"Good job you had that knockout gas with you, boss,” said Rawson admiringly when the story was finished.
"I always try to have something up my sleeve,” replied the Tiger. His voice was complacent, cunning. "And that reminds me I haven’t fixed up the gadget Chang Luey Foy made for me. It’s rather drastic, but it may be useful some time. Tell Bowers to get steam up. Scrag.”
Rawson left the cabin, but returned immediately. "There’s a Chink come aboard,” he reported. “Wants to see Mr. Morcutt.”
The Tiger nodded. “A message from Chang, I expect. Bring him down.”
The Chinaman's message w-as sufficiently startling. “Chang Luey Foy him go to plison,” he announced at once in a sing-song whine.
“And the two Americans in the cellar?”
■“They go to plison, too.”
"When did this happen?"
“Long time ago. In afternoon. But 1 must wait till dalk to hully tell you."
In his broken English, the Chinaman told the whole story of the raid on The Palace of a Thousand Savors. The Tiger listened carefully, asking an occasional question.
“Too close to lx* comfortable.” he muttered eventually. “Gloom's too enterprising. Must have had a watch on the two Americans. They know nothing, but Chang’s different. He can queer us altogether if he talks, and we can’t tell what means may lxtaken to persuade him. We ll get off as soon as we can. Scrag. What’s the evening like?” “Gettin’ misty.”
"Good. That’ll help us. See our friend here off the boat, then tell Bowers we want that steam pronto.”
Scrag Rawson hurried the Chinaman out. The Tiger busied himself with some task. There was silence in the saloon except for the subdued sounds of his movements.
Myra's throat was parched and burning. She turned restlessly in the narrow bunk. Half asleep yet, she didn't know where she was or how she had got here. At the moment her chief concern was the painful dryness of her throat. Somehow or other, she must obtain a drink of water.
After some considerable effort, she managed to move her languid legs out of the bunk. At first it was quite impossible to stand on them, so weak and wavering they were. But eventually she contrived to drag herself more or less upright, holding on to the bunk.
There was no water in her tiny cabin. Probably there would be some in the saloon adjoining. She pushed the door open and stumbled through.
The Tiger was on his knees beside the panelled wall of the saloon. He looked up quickly as she entered.
“What do you want?” he asked, rising to his feet. "Water,” she said thickly. "A drink of water, please.” He scrutinized her closely, noting the dilated pupils of her eyes. She was still deeply under the influence of the drug, and there was no fear of her making any attempt to escape.
"There’s a jug over there on the buffet,” he said, pointing. "Help yourself.”
Without paying any further attention to her, he returned to his work. Myra tottered across the saloon and found the water jug. The relief to her burning throat was exquisite. She poured out another glass, and collapsed on to a settee.
"Where’s Jimmy?” she asked in a sudden flash of recollection.
The Tiger glanced at her, but did not reply. The curtain of memory dropped as quickly as it had lifted.
“Where’s Jimmy?” repeated Myra dully, not knowing why she asked, and unconscious of the fact that again she received no answer.
She watched the Tiger with heavy, drowsy eyes. He had removed a panel from the wall, disclosing a cavity in which the polished front of a safe gleamed. In this cavity he had placed a large round object which had a dial on one side rather like a clock. To terminals on this he was attaching wires which ran underneath the thick carpet covering the floor.
When he had finished and replaced the panel, no trace of his handiwork could be seen. After glancing thoughtfully round for a while he busied himself beneath the table, running carefully hidden wires to a bell-push on its under surface.
He had just risen to his feet when Scrag Rawson hurried into the saloon, his squint accentuated by his excitement.
“Look at this, boss!” he exclaimed, flourishing an evening paper. “The Chink brought it aboard. I’ve only just seen it. How did they get to know who she was?”
The Tiger intently studied Myra’s photograph in the paper and the police notice accompanying it. His eyes blazed with sudden fury, then he regained his self-control.
“That’s a smart move on Gloom’s part, Scrag,” he said softly. "Finishes our scheme entirely. And it’s rather disturbing, too. Because this isn’t Irma. It’s a photograph of Miss Livingstone. Quite evidently Gloom has tumbled to something: he’s guessed that she was to impersonate Irma. The question is: how much more has he guessed?” He paced about the saloon for a while, deep in thought. "Listen, Scrag,” he continued eventually. “I don’t see how Gloom can know anything about the Avalon. But we can’t be sure. Chang may have squealed. It’s possible that the police may pay us a visit before we can get away.
“Tell Bowers to get a move on as soon as he can. See that everyone is in uniform. Post the boys in the usual hiding places, and make sure that they have silencers fitted to their guns. If anything does happen, we mustn’t have any noise because there’s sure to be a cordon of police round the yacht.
"Keep a keen lookout. If Gloom has definite information about us, he’s almost certain to try to slip aboard unseen with the idea of surprising us. If he comes openly and in force, which isn’t likely, get the machine guns going and keep him off. so that we’ve a chance to get away in the mist. But if he tries to sneak on board, let him. Keep under cover, and sandbag him. Or let him come right down to me in the saloon. Understand?”
"Yes, boss. If there’s a proper raid, we’ve to fight. If not. just lie low till we’re wanted.” v
"That’s right. We’ve everything in our favor so long as we’re not caught napping.”
"What you goin’ to do with the dame?”
“She’s no further use to us. Fredoni is bound to hear of Irma's death sooner or later, and that finishes our plans. This girl’s simply a danger to us now. She’s half asleep. I’ll finish her off, and we’ll drop her overboard before we sail. Get busy. Scrag! It’s time I became Prescott again. With the girl out of the way I might be able to bluff Gloom if he does turn up.”
Rawson hurried out of the saloon. After a quick glance at Myra, the Tiger pulled a bag from a cupboard and carried it into the adjoining cabin.
Myra sat still on the settee, staring vacantly in front of her. She had heard all that had been said, but the words had conveyed little to her drugged brain. Vaguely she was aware that something terrible would soon happen.
There were sounds of great activity below where sweating men were firing the boilers. Occasionally Scrag Rawson hurried through the saloon for another word with his master. He paid no attention to the girl. Soon all noise died away and there was hushed silence aboard the yacht.
It was quite a while before the Tiger returned to the saloon. He had changed his workman’s clothes for a smart lounge suit and his linen was immaculate. Neatly brushed silver hair, a military mustache and a monocle - Sir Walter Prescott in person.
He strode directly across to Myra. She looked at him without recognition. His eyes glittered madly as he drew a gleaming knife from a sheath under his arm.
INSPECTOR PERKINS, in charge of that part of the * Thames Division which has its headquarters at Wapping, was a red-headed giant with a kindly weatherbeaten face and the keen narrow eyes of those who spend their lives on the water. He was busy with the telephone when Gloom and Jimmy entered his office.
“Waiting for you,” he said, rising from his desk. “Something brewing out there on the river.”
"Anything happened?” asked Gloom.
“Not yet. A Chink went aboard some time ago. We collared him as he came off. Not a word from him, of course. But they’ve got steam up. They must be about ready to move.”
“You’re keeping a close watch on the yacht?” “Naturally. Three launches waiting. And I’ve notified stations farther down the river to keep their eyes peeled.” “That’s good. No chance of it getting away, then. We’re on the right track.”
Gloom told how the identity of the Tiger and Sir Walter Prescott had been established.
“I’ve not the slightest doubt that we’ve reached the end of the trail,” he continued. “But I don’t quite know the best way of carrying on.”
“Plenty of men available,” suggested Perkins. “Why not raid the yacht in force?”
“Two reasons. The Tiger cornered will be dangerous— I don’t want any men hurt if we can help it. Then, there’s a young lady imprisoned on the yacht. If the Tiger has any warning of an attack he’s capable of removing her before we can get at him.”
“I see.” Perkins’ weather-beaten face wrinkled in thought. “Not so easy as it looks. He’ll not be expecting you?”
“He can’t possibly know that we’ve discovered about the yacht. But he’s the kind to take every precaution.” "And you want to surprise him if possible? It’s going to be risky.”
“I know.” Gloom nodded. ‘T thought perhaps you could suggest a plan.”
Perkins stared hard through the open window into the darkness of the evening.
“There’s a heavy mist on the river,” he murmured. “That will help.” He paced round the office for a while in silence. “There’s only one way I ran see,” he said eventually. “You and I will drift down on the Avalon in a small boat. If we’re not expected there’s just a chance we might get on board unseen. What will happen then depends on what we find. We’ll have men in boats all round the yacht just out of sight. They’ll collar anyone who tries to get away, but they won’t show themselves until they get the signal. A gunshot would be best, I think. Might be given by either side. If we’re discovered and there’s any firing, the sooner the boys close in the better, eh?”
“I expect that’s the best way we can arrange things,” agreed Gloom, nodding. “It won’t be any picnic. Better issue some guns, I think. I’m ready as soon as you are.” He turned to Jimmy who was listening eagerly.
“You’ll wait here. Mr. Harrison. The show’ll be over one way or another in half an hour or less.”
“I’m coming with you, inspector.”
“Indeed you’re not. If we fail to get aboard the yacht unseen, we’re for it.”
“I’m coming with you,” repeated Jimmy stubbornly. “Myra’s there. I’m not waiting here.”
“If you’re killed—”
“It’s easier to kill two men than three. If you don’t let me come with you, I’ll swim out.”
“Stupid young devil,” Gloom sighed, but his cadaverous face had softened. “I expect you’ll spoil everything if I don’t keep an eye on you. Anyhow, if we’re all killed I can’t get into trouble at the Yard. Here’s a gun. For the love of Mike, don’t use it unless you must.”
Final arrangements were quickly completed. Jimmy and Gloom took their seats in a small rowing boat. Perkins seized the oars as willing hands pushed the boat from the side. A moment later they were alone on the river.
The night was dark, and a damp mist pressed closely around them. It was impossible to distinguish any details more than a few yards away. Jimmy lost his sense of direction immediately. It seemed to him that they could never hope to find the yacht on .such a night: But Perkins pulled steadily at the oars. He knew the exact position of the Avalon. He was giving it a wide berth so that the creaking of the oars should not be heard, pulling upstream so that they might later drift down in silence.
XTO ONE spoke. Gloom and Jimmy strained their eyes > trying to pick out any form or shape in the grey darkness that swirled about them. Perkins rowed with effortless rhythm, occasionally listening to some subdued indistinct sound from the river bank which told him where he was.
At last he stopped, unshipped the oars and quickly seized a paddle from the bottom of he boat.
"We’re going downstream now,” he whispered. "Keep a sharp lookout, and be ready to fend off when we reach the yacht.”
The boat slowly drifted through the darkness. On either
Conitinued on page 38
The Case of The Painted Girl
Continued from page 24
side a faint glow and a strangely hushed intermittent murmur indicated the proximity of London’s lights and traffic. But out here, in the cold clinging mist, it seemed that they were alone in a world of watery desolation. There was no recognizable sound but the occasional faint lap of the river against the boat.
Jimmy’s heart was thumping unmercifully. He watched the dull oily gleam on the water just in front of the boat, straining his eyes to distinguish the first sign of their destination. In a few moments the die would be cast. In a few moments Myra would be safe—or lost forever.
Vaguely the stern of the Avalon loomed up out of the mist. With a deft stroke of the paddle, Perkins sent the boat heading straight for it. Gloom and Jimmy stood up and fended it off with their hands, so that no noise was made. A boathook kept them I from drifting farther.
Apart from the usual riding lights, no I glimmer showed anywhere on the Avalon. j So far as they could see, there was no sign of life on her deserted deck.
“Looks as though we might manage it,” whispered Perkins. “All’s quiet so far.”
! “A bit too quiet for my liking,” mur; mured Gloom. “I’d have felt happier with a ! few lights about. Still, we can’t turn back now. How do we get up without wakening the dead?”
^ “By the anchor chain.” Perkins pulled | the boat a little to one side, close to the ! creaking chain. “I’ll go first. Hang on to I this hook.”
I He climbed swiftly up the chain. Jimmy, watching the deck, his revolver ready in case of attack, thought he saw a movement in the shadow of the bridge and cautiously drew Gloom’s attention to it.
1 “Yes, son, I saw it. I'm not t<x> comfortable about all this. It’s too darned easy. Things are not just as they seem. Still— Perkins is up all right. You'd better go j next.”
Jimmy climbed awkwardly up the chain. Perkins held out a helping hand to him. They stood motionless, staring along the deserted deck, until Gloom joined them.
“Be reidy for anything now,” he whispered. “I’m sure something moved in that shadow. We’ll go straight for it.”
He tiptoed carefully along the deck, the others close behind him. In the shadow of the bridge he halted abruptly. There was an ominous darker shadow at his feet. He stooped and felt at it with searching fingers, then slowly straightened.
“I like it less and less,” he murmured, j "There's some devil’s work afoot. His throat’s cut from ear to ear.”
“Mutiny on board, perhaps?” breathed Perkins.
“laird knows. Come on.”
They halted again at the top of the companionway. Down below, the darkness was intense except where a strong light from the open door of the saloon fell across the passageway.
As they stood there peering down into the darkness a muffled scream came from below.
“Oh, don’t do that,” cried a trembling, j terrified voice. "Jimmy! Help me!”
“Myra!” gasped Jimmy, and was down the stairs in one leap.
He dashed to the open door of the saloon, with Gloom and Perkins close on his heels. Though the strong light dazzled him, he could still see Myra shrinking back on a settee. And the Tiger, with knife upraised above her breast, turning in surprise at the interruption.
A frenzy possessed Jimmy Harrison at that moment. One stride took him into the saloon, one blow sent the Tiger hurtling to the floor. He was gathering Myra into his arms when a hoarse voice sounded from the door.
“Stick ’em up, Harrison!”
Scrag Rawson stood in the doorway, a silenced automatic in each hand.
“Quick! Or I’ll drill you !”
HIS fingers were already crooking round the triggers. There was no time to waste. Jimmy hurriedly raised his arms above his head, looking round in astonishment. What had happened to Gloom and Perkins?
The Tiger rose to his feet. He carefully straightened his clothes and replaced the monocle in his eye.
“Good work, Scrag,” he said calmly. “Where’s Gloom?”
“Out here,” replied Rawson, with a gesture toward the passage. “We were standin’ in the shadow at the end. Thought we’d better not let three of ’em get through. Harrison came down so quickly that we missed him. But we sandbagged both Gloom and his pal as they ran past.”
"Good work,” said the Tiger again. “Bring them in. We’ll fasten them all up and have a little talk.”
Two more men helped Rawson to drag in the unconscious bodies of Gloom and Perkins. Their weapons were taken from them and they were scientifically trussed up and gagged, then dumped on the floor. Jimmy suffered the same fate. He was tempted to make a last bid for freedom, but knew what the inevitable result would be. It was no use throwing his life away in futile sacrifice. A shot from a silenced pistol would not even give the signal to the waiting police.
Water dashed into the faces of the unconscious men soon brought them round. The Tiger stood looking down at his three helpless prisoners with a faint smile.
“You’ve let yourself in for it this time, inspector,” he said, playing with the knife in his hand. “I’m very much afraid it’s the end for you.” He released the other’s gag a little. “Any farewell message?”
Gloom struggled hard to raise himself to a sitting position, but failed.
“Part of the game,” he said sorrowfully. “I never had a great amount of luck. But there’ll be some satisfaction in knowing that it’s the end for you, too.”
“I don’t think that follows.”
“The yacht is surrounded by police. You can’t possibly escape even if you kill us. You might just as well—”
“We won’t argue about it, inspector.” The Tiger replaced the gag. “I’m quite sure you’re right about your police. You’d hardly be so foolish as to come aboard without cutting off all avenues of escape. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to think that we’ve at least a sporting chance of getting away—because of a rather melodramatic diversion in which you will play your part.” He turned to Rawson. “Lower a boat, Scrag. As silently as you can. Get everyone into it. Report to me when you’re through.” As soon as his men had gone, he unscrewed a porthole, drew the curtain for a moment, and threw out the revolvers taken from his captives.
“We’ll make sure that no chance shot brings your colleagues to interfere before we’re ready for them,” he said gently. “Luckily all our guns are silenced.” He paced about the saloon for a few minutes. “And now I’ll tell you just what I propose to do.
“There’s a very clever gadget constructed by our mutual friend Chang Luey Foy hidden away on the Avalon. When I press this button under the table, an ingenious
little clock starts ticking. It ticks for ! exactly five minutes. Then a small glass phial breaks into another container and— presto!—the Avalon goes up to the sky! I’ve seen a small model of this gadget go off; it was really a most alarming explosion.
“You, my friends, will go up with the Avalon. It is quite certain that only small portions of you will ever be seen again. From the boat now being lowered I shall watch the spectacle. Others will see it. too; ! half London will hear it. Your men will | come hurrying to discover what has hapj pened. They will be inclined to think that j I and my men have shared in the catastrophe. Anyhow. I imagine that we shall have a very good chance of escaping in the inevitable confusion.”
Jimmy listened to the cold-blooded plan in horror. There was no doubt that the Tiger intended to do as he said—to murder three bound men and a drugged girl without a qualm!
He glanced at Myra. Her lovely face was puzzled and worried. It was evident that she was struggling vainly to understand what was happening.
He looked at his two companions and saw the same chilled horror in their eyes. Both were frantically endeavoring to get free from their bonds. Jimmy strained at his own. but failed to make the slightest impression on them. He tried to spit out his gag, though knowing that the waiting police were too far away to hear any shout from this saloon.
SCRAG RAWSON returned to report that his orders had been carried out.
“All in except Bowers, boss,” he said. “We can’t find him anywhere.”
“That’s his lookout, then,” said the Tiger coldly. “He’s disobeyed orders. Maybe he’s deserted. Or perhaps our friends here threw him into the river when they came on board. Anyhow, we can’t wait.”
He leisurely satisfied himself that the captives’ bonds were still secure.
“Now, listen. Scrag.” he continued. “Unless you carry out these instructions precisely we’ve not the slightest chance of escaping. Put your watch with mine—to the second.
“Exactly five minutes after I press this button the Avalon will blow up. 1 shall press it as you leave the saloon. You will return to the boat and wait. I shall remain here to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the plan. When precisely four minutes have elapsed, I shall join you. If for any unforeseen reason I have not done so, you will push off, get as far away from the yacht as possible and save yourselves as best you can. Is that thoroughly understood?”
“Yes, boss. I wait exactly four minutes, then skedaddle.”
“Off you go, then. Lxx)k at your watch. I’m pressing the button—now!”
There was silence in the sakxm for a few moments after liawson had gone. The Tiger stood rigid by the table, twiddling the knife in his hands.
“You have four minutes to live,” he said soon, glancing at his watch. “It seems a great pity that the poor Avalon must be sacrificed. Still—”
He swung round suddenly. A figure had appeared in the doorway of the saloon, a figure wild and dishevelled, streaming with water.
“Hello, Slick,” he said. “So you've managed to get here after all? I thought Gloom had—”
Slick Stevens’ pale eyes were narrowed to pinpoints. He held a silenced automatic in one bloodstained hand.
“Yes, I’ve got here, you devil!” he muttered softly. “And I’ve got you, too. You know why. I told you if you harmed a hair of her head—”
The knife flashed from the Tiger’s fingers across the saloon— a fraction of a second too late. The automatic in Stevens’ hand flamed repeatedly with a gentle pop-poppop. The Tiger staggered, his hands pressed tight to his body.
Slick Stevens swayed drunkenly, the
\ handle of the knife protruding from his j chest. His knees gave way beneath him.
I Even as he collapsed he pulled the trigger again. A round bluish hole appeared suddenly in the centre of the Tiger's forehead. The two bodies reached the floor together.
With cold perspiration beading his face, Jimmy strained desperately at his bonds. The Tiger was dead at last! But relief had come too late. Somewhere on the yacht a deadly machine was ticking. In a couple of minutes the Avalon would be blown sky high. The Tiger would take all of them with him on his last long journey.
Í If only he could free himself! But the bonds held tight.
Slick Stevens was not yet dead. Blood was trickling from his writhing lips.
“Water.” he moaned feebly. “A drink of water.”
A drink of water! Myra staggered to her feet. What had happened in connection with a drink of water? Association brought back a flash of memory to her drugged mind. She had asked for a drink of water while the Tiger had been busy with that curious round object behind the panel.
The wires! The button under the table! She remembered them now. The yacht would blow up in five minutes, he had said. And that object behind the panel had a dial like a clock face . . .
She stumbled across to the panel. Distinctly she could hear a faint ticking behind it. Her trembling fingers found the spring and the panel slid back.
Terror stricken, she stared at the bomb. At any moment the evil looking thing might erupt into blinding, crashing death. Perhaps there was time for her to run. But Jimmy was lying helpless on the floor— her Jimmy! Painfully she unfastened the wires from the terminals. The ticking continued, steady, remorseless. She carried the ball of death in shaking hands across the saloon and flung it through the porthole.
The splash of its fall into the river was distinctly audible. Almost immediately a dull though tremendous roar crashed into the silence of the night. A wave of water swept in through the portholes. The Avalon rocked violently. Myra fell senseless into a chair.
And soon there came the sound of hurrying footsteps on the deck as the police swarmed on board eager to save either friend or enemy from the sinking yacht.
TT WAS a glorious morning. Jimmy -L Harrison's heart felt like bursting with joy as he hurried along toward the little flat in Alexandra Road. The sun was shining. A clean fresh breeze was blowing. The busy sparrows were twittering happily. And Myra was safe!
Lily Fortune opened the door to admit him. Her red hair was touzled, her freckled face widely smiling.
“She’s slept all night,” she whispered. “The doctor says she'll be no worse for what she's gone through. Oh, Jimmy!”
“Is she awake yet?” he asked eagerly.
“I don’t know.”
“Can I—can I see her?”
“Yes. Go on. I’ve just got breakfast ready.”
Jimmy tiptoed into the tiny bedroom. Just inside the door he halted, staring hungrily. Myra lay in the little white bed, sleeping peacefully. Her soft cheeks were flushed, her red lips gently parted.
As he looked at her, she opened her eyes. A flame stirred in their brown depths.
“Jimmy,” she murmured. “Oh, Jimmy!”
He dropped on his knees beside the bed. Two warm arms encircled his neck and drew his head on to a soft white breast . . .
“You’ve had breakfast, I suppose?” asked Lily later.
“Yes,” replied Jimmy foolishly. “But I don’t mind another.”
It was a very gay little party that attacked the bacon and eggs. They were halfway through the meal when Inspector Gloom arrived and was pressed to join them.
He sat down like a skeleton at the feast. His cadaverous features were mournful as
“You’re bright and smiling as usual, inspector,” Myra teased him. “I don’t know how you manage to keep so cheerful.”
“I’ve had a riotously merry night, Miss Livingstone,” said Gloom. “Trying to convince the commissioner that I’m not responsible for all the corpses in the mortuary. There’s the Tiger there. And Slick Stevens. Not to speak of Gregory Walker, and Irma Fredoni. Oh. and there’s the man Bowers, too. His body was fished out of the river during the night.”
“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” shivered Myra.
“I don’t suppose any of them will be missed. And, as I told the commissioner, he ought to be thankful that the boatload of crooks we caught as they escaped from the Avalon weren’t dead, too. That bomb you threw overboard missed them by inches."
“You’re certainly a bright spot this morning.” muttered Jimmy. “Have you found out why Myra was kidnapped; what the idea was?”
“Up to a point.” Gloom stirred his coffee as though he were mixing a deadly potion. “Slick Stevens made a lengthy statement before he died. But you won’t want to hear about that now.”
“Of course we want to hear about it,” protested Myra. “I want to be sure that it’s all over.”
“Oh, it’s all over. You needn’t worry about that. You won’t be troubled any more. If you’re really anxious to know. I’ll tell you what I’ve been able to piece together.”
GLOOM slowly buttered another piece of toast. The others waited impatiently for him to begin.
“It started in Chicago, of course,” he said at last. “With AÍ Fredoni. A most remarkable man he must be.”
“Very,” agreed Jimmy drily.
“Don't scoff, Mr. Harrison. I mean it. Any man who can control a gang of racketeers when he is stone blind must be remarkable.”
“Blind? It sounds impossible, inspector.” “It does. But it is the fact. He was blinded in a gang battle, and not a living soul knew it except Irma. He managed to carry on. But he came to rely on his daughter absolutely, to depend on her to see that all the details of his organization were adequately supervised. She took the place of his missing sight. We can perhaps hardly wonder that he took her desertion so much to heart, that his hot Sicilian blood —
“However, that’s neither here nor there. The point is that Irma, having eloped with Walker, told the latter about the blindness. And when Irma herself, soon after her arrival in England, was badly hurt in a motor smash, Walker and the Tiger conceived a plan for turning the blindness to account.
“Walker had seen Miss Livingstone in Berry and Dawn’s while buying dresses for Irma, and had been struck by the resemblance between the two girls. The plan was very simple. Miss Livingstone was to be kidnapped and kept in captivity. By constant drugging with scopolamine, her identity was to be destroyed and a new one built up for her. When all her own recollections were eradicated, she would be persuaded that she was Irma Fredoni, and Gregory Walker would fill her empty mind with incidents from the other girl’s past. She would actually become, so far as any outsider could tell, the daughter of the Chicago gangster.”
“What a heartless scheme.” muttered Jimmy, looking into Myra’s startled eyes. “What was the idea?”
“It was a neat piece of psychology,” replied Gloom, finishing his coffee. “The Tiger believed—I think with every justification—that if Irma could return to Chicago alone and pretend penitence, her father would forgive her and restore her to his confidence. As soon as Miss Livingstone was properly prepared, the Tiger was to take her to Fredoni. If things worked out
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las they expected, she would again become the gangster’s eyes; again he would rely on her implicitly. By this time, of course, the pretended Irma would be completely under the influence of the Tiger. As a natural result, her adviser would gradually obtain control of Fredoni’s millions.”
Gloom paused to light his pipe. The others waited in silence, j "You know pretty well how things panned jout,” he went on. “The Tiger arranged for the kidnapping of Miss Livingstone, and brought her to Withens where it was intended to keep her prisoner. In the I meantime Walker had somehow learned that Tiny Bancroft and Lena Cadorno were on his trail. He guessed that their mission j was one of revenge. He poisoned Black ! Ferguson and so faked his own death in the hope of putting them off.
“The Tiger arrived with Miss Livingstone and was told what had happened. He was not at all worried about the death of Black Ferguson; but he was very much worried indeed about the two American crooks who I might spoil all his plans if they persisted in j their quest after Gregory Walker. It j occurred to him that Walker’s death would j serve two purposes; it would satisfy these 1 crooks, and it would avoid any necessity
for sharing the Fredoni millions when acquired. So he stabbed his confederate just at the moment that Mr. Harrison chose to walk into the garden.”
Myra's hand caught Jimmy’s.
“If you hadn’t come just then!" she breathed.
“And that’s about all, I think,” said Gloom. “Except for the unexpected result of the publication of Miss Livingstone’s photograph last night. Slick Stevens was lurking in hiding, awaiting an opportunity to rejoin the Tiger. He saw the photograph and never doubted that it was Irma Fredoni who had been killed. He had loved the girl passionately for some time. In a fury of revenge he determined to kill the Tiger. He swam out to the Avalon, cut the throat of one of the watchers—Bowers— and took his gun. He was crouching quite near when we found the body, which he threw overboard in the resulting confusion. Curious to reflect that we all owe our lives to this accomplished criminal, isn’t it?” “It’s still more curious,” said Jimmy, “that the Tiger should be finished at last by one of his own men.”
“Yes,” agreed Gloom, shaking his tonsured head mournfully. “I never did have much luck.”