A diminutive gas-jet’s sickly, yellow flame illuminated the room with poverty-stricken inadequacy; high up on the wall, bordering the ceiling, the moonlight, as though contemptuous of its artificial competitor, streamed in through a small, square window, and laid a white, flickering path to the door across a filthy and disreputable rag of carpet; also, through a rent in the roller shade, which was drawn over a sort of antiquated French window that opened on a level with the floor and in line with the top-light, the moonlight disclosed a narrow and squalid courtyard without.

In one corner of the room stood a battered easel, while against the wall near it, and upon the floor, were a number of canvases of different sizes. A cot bed, unmade, its covers dirty and in disorder, occupied the wall space opposite the door. In the centre of the mean and uninviting apartment stood a table, its top littered with odds and ends, amongst which the remains of a meal, dishes and food, fraternised gregariously with a painter’s palette, brushes and paint tubes. A chair or two, long since disabled, and a rickety washstand completed the appointments.

The moonlight’s path across the floor wavered suddenly, the door opened, was locked again, and with a quick, catlike step a man moved along the side of the wall where the shadows lay thickest near the door, dropped on his knees, and began to fumble hurriedly with the base-board of the wall, pausing at every alternate second to listen intently.

A minute passed. A section of the base-board was lifted out, the man’s hand was thrust inside—and emerged again with a large roll of banknotes. He turned his head for a quick glance around the room, his eyes, burning out of a gaunt, hollow-cheeked, pallid face, held on the torn window shade—and then, in almost frantic haste, he thrust the banknotes back inside the wall, and began to replace the base-board. But it was not the window shade, nor yet the courtyard without with which he was concerned—it was the sound of a heavy footstep outside the door.

And now the door was tried. The man on the floor, working with desperate energy to replace the base-board, coughed in an asthmatic, wheezing way, as there came the imperative smashing of a fist upon the door panels, coupled with a gruff, curt demand for admittance. Again the man coughed—to drown perhaps the slight rasping sound as the base-board slid back into place—and, rising to his feet, shuffled hastily to the door and unlocked it.

The door was flung violently open from without, a heavy-built, clean-shaven, sharp-featured man stepped into the room, slammed the door shut behind him, re-locked it, and swept a shrewd, inquisitive, suspicious glance about the place.

“It took you a damned long time to open that door, Mister Smarlinghue!” he said sharply.

The man addressed touched his lips with the tip of his tongue nervously, shrank back, and made no reply.

The lapel of the visitor’s coat thrown carelessly back displayed a police shield on the vest beneath; and now, completing a preliminary survey of the surroundings, the man’s eyes narrowed on Smarlinghue.

“I guess you know who I am, don’t you? Heard of me perhaps, too—eh? Clancy of headquarters is my name!” He laughed menacingly, unpleasantly.

Smarlinghue’s clothes were threadbare and ill-fitting; his coat was a size too small for him, and from the short sleeves protruded blatantly the frayed and soiled wristbands of his shirt. He twined his hands together anxiously, and retreated further back into the room.

“I haven’t done anything, honest to God, I haven’t!” he whined.

“Ain’t, eh?” The other laughed again. “No, of course not! Nobody ever did! But now I’m here—just dropped in socially, you know—I’ll have a look around.”

He began to move about the room. Smarlinghue, still twining his hands in a helpless, frightened way, still circling his lips nervously with the tip of his tongue, followed the other’s movements in miserable apprehension with his eyes.

Clancy, as he had introduced himself, shot up the roller shade, peered out into the courtyard, yanked the shade down again with a callous jerk that almost tore it from its fastenings, and strode over toward the easel, contemptuously kicking a chair that happened to be in his way over onto the floor. Reaching the easel he picked up the canvas that rested upon it, stared at it for a moment—and with a grunt of disdain flung it away from him to the ground.

There was a crash as it struck the floor, a ripping sound as the canvas split, and with a pitiful cry Smarlinghue rushed forward and snatched it up.

“It—it was sold,” he choked. “I—I was to get the money to-morrow. I have had bad luck for a month—nothing sold but this—and now—and now—” He drew himself up suddenly, and, with the ruined painting clutched to his breast, shook his other fist wildly. “You have no right here!” he screamed in fury. “Do you hear! I have not done anything! I tell you, I have not done anything! You have no right here! I will make you pay for this! I will! I will!” His voice was rising in a shrill falsetto. “I will make you—”

“You hold your tongue,” growled Clancy savagely, “or I’ll give you something more than an old chromo to make a row about! I don’t want any mass meeting of your kind of citizens. Get that?” He caught Smarlinghue roughly by the shoulder, and pushed him into a chair near the table. “Sit down there, and close your jaw!”

Cowed, Smarlinghue’s voice dropped to a mumble, and he let the torn canvas slip from his fingers to the floor.

Clancy laughed gruffly, pulled another chair to the opposite side of the table, sat down himself, and eyed Smarlinghue coldly for a moment.

“Sold it, eh?” he observed grimly. “How much were you going to get for it?”

A cunning gleam flashed in Smarlinghue’s eyes—and vanished instantly. He wet his lips with his tongue again.

“Ten dollars,” he said hoarsely.

Clancy brushed aside the litter on the table, and nonchalantly laid down a ten-dollar bill.

With a sharp little cry that brought on a fit of coughing, Smarlinghue stretched out his hand for the money eagerly.

Clancy drew the money back out of reach.

“Oh, no, nothing like that!” he drawled unpleasantly. “Don’t make the mistake of taking me for a fool. I’m not buying any ten-cent art treasures at ten dollars a throw!”

Smarlinghue’s eyes remained greedily riveted on the ten-dollar note. He began to twine his hands together once more.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he muttered tremulously.

“Don’t you!” retorted the other shortly. “Well, I mean exactly what I say. I’m not buying any pictures, I’m buying—you. I have been keeping an eye on you for the last three or four months. You’re just the guy I’ve been looking for. As far as I can make out, there ain’t a dive or a roost in the Bad Lands where you don’t get the glad hand—eh?”

“I—I haven’t done anything! Not a thing! I—I swear I haven’t!” Smarlinghue burst out frantically.

“Aw, forget it!” Clancy permitted a thin smile to flicker contemptuously across his lips. “You’ve got a whole lot of friends that I’m interested in. Get the idea? There ain’t a crook in New York that’s shy of you. You got a ‘stand-in’ everywhere.” He held up the ten-dollar bill. “There’s more of these—plenty of ‘em.”

Smarlinghue pushed back his chair now in a frightened sort of way.

“You—you mean you want me for—for a stool pigeon?” he faltered.

“You got it!” said Clancy bluntly.

Smarlinghue’s eyes roved about the room in a furtive, terror-stricken glance, his hand passed aimlessly over his eyes, and he crouched low down in his chair.

“No, no!” he whispered. “No, no—for God’s sake, Mr. Clancy, don’t ask me to do that! I can’t—I can’t! I—I wouldn’t be any good, I—I can’t! I—I won’t!”

Clancy thrust head and shoulders aggressively across the table.

“You will—if you know what’s good for you!” he said evenly. “And, what’s more, there’s a little job you’re going to break your hand in on to-night.”

“No! No, no! I can’t! I can’t!” Smarlinghue flung out his arms imploringly.

Clancy lowered his voice.

“Cut that out!” he snapped viciously. “What’s the matter with you! You’ll be well paid for it—and have police protection. You ought to know what that’ll mean to you—eh? You live like a gutter-snipe here—half starved most of the time, for all you can get out of those ungodly daubs!”

A curious dignity came to Smarlinghue. He sat upright.

“It is my art,” he said. “I have starved for it many years. Some day I will get recognition. Some day I—”

“Art—hell!” sneered Clancy; and then he laughed coarsely, as, his fingers prodding under the miscellany of articles on the table, he suddenly held up a hypodermic syringe. “This is your art, my bucko! Why, you poor boob, don’t you think I know you! Cocaine’s the one thing on earth you live for. You’re stewed to the eyes with it now. Here, just watch me! Suppose”—he caught the syringe in a quick grip between the fingers of both hands—“suppose I just put this little toy out of commission now, and—”

With a shrill screech, Smarlinghue sprang from his chair, and clawed like a demented man at the other’s hands for possession of the hypodermic.

Clancy surrendered the syringe with a mocking grin, and shoved Smarlinghue backward into his chair again.

“Oh, yes; you’re an artist all right—a coke artist!” he remarked coolly. “But that’s what makes you solid in every den in New York, and that’s how you come in useful—to me. Well, what do you say?”

There was a hunted look in Smarlinghue’s eyes.

“They’d—they’d kill me,” he said huskily.

“Sure, they would!” agreed Clancy easily. “If they found you out it would be good-night, all right—that’s what you’re getting paid for. But”—his voice hardened—“if you don’t come across, I’ll tell you what I’ll do to you. I’ll—”

“You can’t do anything! Not a thing!” Smarlinghue cried wildly. “You haven’t anything on me at all. I’ve never done a thing, not a single—”

“Oh, I guess there’s enough to make you sweat,” Clancy cut in brutally. “You give me the icy paw, and I’ll see that the tip leaks out from the right quarters that you are a stool pigeon. That’ll take care of your finish, too, won’t it—good and plenty!”

Smarlinghue stared miserably. Again and again his tongue circled his lips. Twice he tried to speak—and only succeeded in mumbling inarticulately.

Clancy got up from the table, walked around it, and, standing over the crouched figure in the chair, tapped with his finger on the hypodermic in Smarlinghue’s hands.

“And that ain’t all,” he announced with a malicious grin. “You come in and play the game with me, or I’ll fix it so that you’ll never get another squirt of dope if you had a million bucks to buy it with—ah, I thought that would get you!”

Smarlinghue was on his feet. The terror of the damned was in his face.

“No! No! My God—no—not that! You—you wouldn’t do that!” He reached out his arms to the other.

“You know—I’ve gone too far to do without it. If I didn’t have it, I—”

“I’ve seen a few of them in that sort of jim-jams,” said Clancy malevolently. “You can’t tell me anything about it. If you appreciate it, that’s enough—it’s up to you. You heard what I said. If you’re looking for that particular kind of hell, go to it. Only don’t kid yourself. When I pass the word to put the screws on, the lid’s down for keeps. Well, what’s the answer? Coming across? Quick now! I haven’t got all night to spend here!”

Smarlinghue’s hands were trembling violently; he sat down in his chair in a pitiful, uncertain way.

“Yes, yes!” he whispered. “Yes! I got to do it. I’ll do it, Mr. Clancy, I’ll do it! I’ll—I’ll do anything!”

A half leer, half scowl was on Clancy’s face, as he stood regarding the other.

“I thought you would!” he grunted roughly. “Well then, we’ll get down to business—and to-night’s business. You know the back entrance to Malay John’s hang-out?”

Smarlinghue’s eyes widened a little in a startled way. He nodded his head.

“Very good,” said Clancy gruffly. “You’ll have no trouble in getting in there. And once in there you’ll have no trouble in getting up to Malay’s private den. I’ve been wised up that Malay and a few of his pals are getting ready to pull off a little game uptown. I want the dope on it—all of it. They’ve been meeting in Malay’s den for the last few nights—understand? They drift in between half past eleven and twelve—you get there a little before halfpast eleven. You haven’t anything to be afraid of, so don’t lose your nerve. Malay himself is away this evening and won’t be back before midnight; and the door won’t be locked, as otherwise the others couldn’t get in. Everything’s clear for you. Savvy? Once you’re in the room, there’s plenty of places to hide—and that’s all you’ve got to do, except keep your ears and eyes open. Get the lay?”

Again Smarlinghue nodded—unhappily this time.

“All right!” said Clancy crisply. “I’m not coming around here any more—unless I have to. It might put you in bad. You can make your reports and get your orders through Whitie Karn at his dance hall.”

“Whitie Karn!” The exclamation seemed to come involuntarily, in a quick, frightened way from Smarlinghue.

Clancy’s lips twisted in a smile.

“Kind of a jolt—eh—Smarlinghue? You didn’t suspect he was one of us, did you?—and there’s more than Whitie Karn. Well, it will teach you to be careful. Suppose Whitie, for instance, passed the word that you were a snitch—eh? It won’t do you any harm to keep that in mind once in a while.” He moved over to the door. “Well, good-night, Smarlinghue! I guess you understand, don’t you? You ought to be a pretty valuable man, and I expect a lot from you. If I don’t get it—” He shrugged his shoulders, held Smarlinghue for an instant with half-closed, threatening eyes—and then the door closed behind him.

Smarlinghue did not move. The steps receded from the door, and died away along the passage. A minute, two minutes went by. Suddenly Smarlinghue pushed back the wristband of his shirt, and pricked the skin with the needle of the hypodermic. The door, without a sound, swung wide open. Clancy stood in the doorway.

“Good-night again, Smarlinghue,” he said coolly.

The hypodermic fell clattering to the floor; Smarlinghue jumped nervously in his chair.

Clancy laughed—significantly; and, without closing the door this time, strode away again. His steps echoed back from the passageway, the front door opened and shut, his boot heel rang on the pavement without—and all was silence.

Smarlinghue rose from his chair, shuffled across the room, closed the door and locked it, then shuffled back again to the roller shade over the little French window, and, taking a pin from the lapel of his coat, fastened the rent together.

A passing cloud for a moment obscured the moonrays from the top-light; the gas-jet choked with air, spluttered, burning with a tiny, blue, hissing flame; then the white path lay across the floor again, and the yellow flare of gas spurted up into its pitiful fulness—and in Smarlinghue’s stead stood another man. Gone were the stooping shoulders, gone the hollow cheeks, the thin, extended lips, the widened nostrils, as the little distorting pieces of wax were removed; and out of the metamorphosis, hard and grim, set like chiselled marble, was revealed the face of—Jimmie Dale.

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