Futility! And on top of futility, a week of inaction, thanks to that flesh wound in his leg. Futility seemed to haunt, yes, and torture him! Even his rehabilitation of Larry the Bat, with all its attendant risk and danger, had been futile as far as she was concerned. And he had counted so much on that! And that had failed, and nothing was left to him but to pursue again the one possible chance of success, the hope that somewhere in the innermost depths of the Bad Lands he might pick up the clue he sought. And so, to-night, he was listening again to the voices of the underworld—and so far he had heard nothing but ominous mutterings, proof that the sordid denizens of crimeland were more than usually disturbed. The Wolf had gone to join his friend Frenchy Virat in the Tombs! The twisted lips of the underworld whispered the name of the Gray Seal!

Jimmie Dale’s fingers, twitching, simulating even in that little detail the drug-wrecked role of Smarlinghue that he played, clutched with a sort of hideous eagerness at the hypodermic syringe which he held in his hands. How many times, here in Foo Sen’s, or in other lairs that were but the counterpart of Foo Sen’s, had he lain, stretched out, a pretended victim to a vice that robbed his face of colour, that shook his miserably clad body, that clouded his eyes and stole from them the light of reason—while he listened! How many times—and how many times in the days to come would he do it again! Would it never be his, the secret that he sought—the clue that would divulge the identity of those who threatened the Tocsin’s life; those who, like human wolves, like a hell-pack snarling for its prey, had driven her again into hiding and made of her a hunted thing!

The fingers closed convulsively over the hypodermic. Wolves! A hell-pack! A tinge of red dyed the grey-white, hollowed cheeks, as a surge of fury swept upon him. No, it was not futility; no, it was not wasted effort—this haunting of the dens of the underworld! In his soul he knew that some day he would pick up the trail of that hell-pack and those human wolves—and when that some day came it would be a day of reckoning, and the price that he would exact would not be small!

He lay back on the bunk that Foo Sen had ingratiatingly allotted him. The air was close, heavy with the sweet, sickish smell of opium, and full of low, strange sounds and noises. And these sounds, in their composite sense, emanating from unseen sources, were as the ominous and sinister evidence of some foul and grotesque presence; analysed, they resolved themselves into the swish of hangings, the swish of slippered, shuffling feet, the stertorous breathing of a sleeper, the clink of coin as of men at play, the tinkle of glass, the murmur of voices, the restive stir of reclining bodies, whisperings.

And now he looked about him through half closed eyes. He was in a little compartment, whose doorway was a faded and stained hanging of flowered cretonne, and whose walls were but flimsy-boarded affairs that partitioned him off from like compartments on either side. It was very near to the pulse of the underworld. Above ground, opening on a street just off Chatham Square, Foo Sen’s, to the uninitiated, was but one of the multitudinous Chinese laundries in New York; below, below even the innocent cellar of the house, a half dozen sub-cellars were merged into one, and here Foo Sen plied his trade. And Foo Sen was cosmopolitan in his wares! Here, one, hard pressed, might find refuge from the law; here a pipe and pill were at one’s command; here one might hide his stolen goods, or hatch his projected crime, or gamble, or debauch at will—it was the entree only that was hard to obtain at Foo Sen’s!

Jimmie Dale’s lips twisted in a grim smile. The old days of Larry the Bat had supplied Smarlinghue with the means which, in the last six months, had been turned to such good account that the Smarlinghue of to-day was almost as fully in the confidence of the underworld as had been the Larry the Bat of yesterday. And yet there had been nothing! No clue! He had wormed himself again into the inner circle of crimeland; he lay here in Foo Sen’s to-night, as he had once lain in one of Foo Sen’s competitor’s dives as Larry the Bat, months ago, on the night the place had been raided—but there was still nothing—still no clue—only the shuffle of slippered feet, the stertorous breathings, a subdued curse, a blasphemous laugh, a coin ringing upon a table top, the murmur of voices, whisperings!

One might hear many things here if one listened, and he had heard many things in his frequent visits to these hidden dens of this lower world that shunned the daylight—many things, but never the one thing that he risked his life to hear—many things, from these friends of his who, if in Smarlinghue they but suspected for an instant the presence of Larry the Bat, would literally have torn him limb from limb—many things, but never the one thing, never a word of her—many things, the hatching of crime, as now, for instance, those muttering voices were hatching it from the other side of the partition next to his bunk. Subconsciously he had caught a word here and there, and now, without a sound, he edged his shoulders nearer to the partition until his ear was pressed close against a crack. It did not concern her, but he listened now intently.

“Aw, ferget it!” a voice rasped in a hoarse undertone. “Sure, I saw it! Ain’t I just told youse I saw Curley hand de dough over dis afternoon! Fifteen thousand dollars all in big new bills, five-hundred-dollar bills I t’ink dey was—dat’s wot!”

“How d’youse know it was fifteen thousand?” demanded another voice.

There was a short, vicious laugh; then the voice of the first speaker again:

“‘Cause I heard him say so, an’ de old guy counted it, an’ sealed it up in an envelope, an’ gave Curley a receipt, an’ tucked de green boys into de safe. Aw, say, dere’s nothin’ to it, I can open dat old tin box wid a toothpick!”

“Mabbe youse can, but mabbe de stuff ain’t dere now—mabbe it’s in de bank,” demurred the second voice.

“Don’t youse worry! It’s dere! Where else would it be! Ain’t I told youse it was near five o’clock when I went dere—an’ dat’s after de banks are closed, ain’t it? Well, wot d’youse say?”

“I don’t like pinchin’ any of Curley’s money.” The second speaker’s voice was still further lowered. “It ain’t healthy ter hand Curley anything.”

“Who’s handin’ Curley anything!” retorted the other. “It ain’t got nothin’ to do wid Curley. It ain’t Curley’s money any more. He paid it over for whatever he’s blowin’ himself on, an’ he’s got his receipt for it. It’s none of his funeral after dat! How’s he goin’ to lose anything if we lift de cash? An’ if he ain’t goin’ to lose nothin’, wot’s he goin’ to care! Ferget it! Wot’s de matter wid youse!”

There was a moment’s apparent hesitancy; then, hoarsely:

“Youse are sure, eh, dat nobody saw youse dere?”

“Say, youse have got de chilly feet fer fair ter-night, ain’t youse! Well, can it! No, dey didn’t pipe me, youse can bet yer life on dat. I was goin’ inter de office w’en I hears some spielin’ goin’ on inside, an’ I opens de door a crack, an’ I keeps it open like dat—savvy? An’ w’en de old guy shoots de ready inter de box, an’ I makes me fade-away, I didn’t shut de door hard enough ter bust de glass panels, neither—see? Dat’s de story, an’ it’s on de level. I beats it den, an’ I been huntin’ fer youse ever since. Now, wot d’youse say—are youse on?”

“Sure!” The second speaker’s voice had lost its hesitancy now; it was gruff, assured, even eager. “Sure! I guess youse have pulled a winner, all right! Wot’s de lay? Have youse doped it out?”

“Ask me!” responded the other, with a complacent chuckle. “Youse look after de old guy, dat’s all youse have ter do. Hook up wid him, an’ keep him busy at his house. Get me? De old nut has a crazy notion of goin’ down ter de office in de middle of de night sometimes, an’ dere’s no use takin’ any chances. Youse can put up some hard luck story on him, throw in a weep, an’ youse got his goat fer as long as youse can talk. Leave de rest ter me. Only, say, youse keep away from me fer de rest of de night—get me? Dey might smell a plant after youse bein’ wid him. Youse go somewhere to an all-night joint so’s youse have an alibi all de way through, an’—”

The voice ceased abruptly. In a flash the left sleeve of Jimmie Dale’s ragged, threadbare coat was pushed up, leaving the forearm exposed. The hypodermic needle pricked the flesh. There was no sound of any step; but the cretonne hanging wavered almost imperceptibly, as though some one, or perhaps but a current of air from the passage without, had swayed it slightly. Jimmie Dale was mumbling incoherently to himself now; his lips, like his fingers, working in nervous twitches. A few seconds passed—a half minute. Still mumbling, Jimmie Dale, with a caress like that of a miser for his gold, was fondling the shining little instrument in his hand—and then the hanging was suddenly thrust aside.

Jimmie Dale neither looked up, nor appeared to be conscious of any one’s presence—but he had already recognised the voices of the two men from the adjoining compartment, who, he was quite well aware, were staring in at him now. The smaller, with sharp, cunning, beady, black eyes, the prime mover in the scheme that had just been outlined, was a clever and dangerous “box-worker,”, known as the Rat; the other, a heavy, vicious-faced man, with eyes quite as beady and unpleasant as those of his companion, was Muggy Ladd, who made his living as a “stagehand” for those, such as the Rat, who were more gifted than himself.

“Satisfied?” inquired the Rat “He’s full up to de eyes wid it now. Foo said he’d been hittin’ it up hard fer de last hour.” The Rat addressed Jimmie Dale. “Hello, Smarly!” he called out.

Jimmie Dale lifted his head, and blinked at the cretonne hanging.

“Lemme alone!” he complained thickly. “Go ‘way, an’ lemme alone!

“Sure!” said the Rat genially. “Sure, we will! Sweet dreams, Smarly!”

The hanging fell back into place. Jimmie Dale continued to blink at it, and mumble to himself. The Rat’s pleasant little plan of robbing somebody’s safe of fifteen thousand dollars had nothing to do with her—but it involved a moral obligation on his part that he had neither the right nor the intention to ignore. And the fulfilment, or the attempt at fulfilment, of that obligation had suddenly assumed unexpected difficulties. Even while he had listened, and before the Rat was halfway through his story, he, Jimmie Dale, was conscious that he had made up his mind the Rat would rob no safe of fifteen thousand dollars that night if he could prevent it, and he had intended following the Rat from Foo Sen’s. He dared not do that now. Muggy Ladd’s cautiousness, that had evidently induced the Rat to inspect his, Jimmie Dale’s, compartment, had made that impossible. The Rat had seen him there; and, forced to the deception in order to avert any suspicion that he had overheard the others’ conversation, the Rat had seen him in the condition of one who was apparently already far gone under the influence of drug. To risk the attempt to follow the Rat now, to risk discovery by the Rat, was to risk, not only the admission that he had been playing a part, but to risk what he had fought for and staked his life for months now to establish—the role, the character of “Smarlinghue” in the underworld. Nor, for the same reason, would he dare move from the place for some little time—there was Foo Sen and the attendants.

Jimmie Dale dropped his head down on the bunk, turned heavily over, facing the partition, and flung his arm across his face. His lips had ceased their nervous working; they were drawn together, thin and hard now. It was bad enough to be forced to remain temporarily inactive, though that in itself was not so serious, for it was still early, not much more than nine o’clock, and it was only fair to presume that the Rat would make no move for some hours to come; but what was much more serious was the fact that, unable to follow the Rat, he would be obliged to solve for himself the problem of whose was the safe, and whose the fifteen thousand dollars that was the Rat’s objective. The Rat had referred to “the old guy”—that meant nothing. “Curley,” however, was a little better—Curley, who had paid over the money to the “old guy.”

Jimmie Dale’s forehead, hidden by his arm, furrowed deeply. From Muggy Ladd’s initial objection to touching anything that concerned Curley, it could mean only one Curley. He, Jimmie Dale, knew this Curley by sight, and, slightly, by reputation. Curley and his partner, Haines, kept a small wholesale liquor store in one of the most populous, where all were populous, quarters of the East Side; also Curley had a pull as a ward politician, which might very readily account for Muggy Ladd’s diffidence; and Curley was credited with doing a thriving business—both ways—as ward heeler and liquor purveyor. Certainly, at least, he was known always to have money; and had even been known at times to lend it freely to those in want—for a consideration. Yes, it was undoubtedly and unquestionably Curley, of Haines & Curley, familiarly known on the East Side as Reddy Curley from his flaming red hair—but to whom had Curley paid over the sum of fifteen thousand dollars?

For a moment the frown on Jimmie Dale’s forehead deepened, then he nodded his head quickly. If he could find Curley, or Haines, or even Patsy Marles, the clerk who worked in the liquor store—which might possibly still be open for another hour or so yet—it should not, after all, and without even any undue inquisitiveness on the part of Smarlinghue, prove very difficult to obtain the necessary information, for, if Curley had been in a deal involving fifteen thousand dollars, he was much more likely to be boastful than reticent about it. It resolved itself then after all, into simply a matter of time.

Whisperings, a raucous laugh, a curse, the clink of coin, the rattle of dice, the scuffle of slippered feet, the low swish of the loose-garbed Chinese attendants went on interminably. Jimmie Dale began to toss uneasily from side to side of his bunk, and began to mumble audibly again. Perhaps half an hour passed, during which, from time to time, the curtain of the compartment was drawn quietly aside and the impassive face of one or other of the Chinese attendants was thrust through the opening—and then suddenly Jimmie Dale raised himself up on his elbow, and pointed a shaking finger at one of these apparitions.

“Foo Sen”—he licked his lips as he spoke—“you tell Foo Sen come here!”

The face disappeared, and a moment later another—the wizened, yellow face of a little old Chinaman—took its place.

“You wantee me, Smarly’oo?” inquired the proprietor suavely.

“Tell ‘em to help me out of this.” Jimmie Dale essayed vainly to rise, and fell back on the bunk. “D’ye hear, Foo Sen—tell’em! Goin’ home!”

“Alee same bletter stay sleep him off,” advised Foo Sen.

Jimmie Dale succeeded in sitting upright on the edge of the bunk—and snarled at the other.

“You mind your own business, Foo Sen!” he flung out gutturally. “Goin’ home! Tell ‘em to help me out—sleep where I like! Makes me sick here—rotten smell—rotten punk sticks!”

“You allee same fool,” commented Foo Sen imperturbably, as he clapped his hands. “Mabbe you no get home; mabbe you get run in police cell sleep him off, instead. That your business, you likee that—all right!”

Foo Sen smiled placidly, and was gone.

An instant later, Jimmie Dale, his arms twined around the necks of two Chinamen, and leaning heavily upon them, and stumbling as he walked, was being conducted through a maze of dark and narrow passages that gradually trended upward to a higher level—and presently a door closed behind him, and he was in the open air.

It was dark about him, not even the glimmer of a window light showed from anywhere—but in Foo Sen’s there were eyes that saw through the darkness, and his progress, alone now, was both unsteady and slow. He was in a very narrow alleyway between two houses—one of the several hidden entrances to Foo Sen’s. The alley opened in one direction on a lane, in the other direction on the street. Jimmie Dale chose the direction of the lane, reached the lane, and, still stumbling and lurching, made his way along for a distance of possibly fifty yards; then, well clear of the neighbourhood of Foo Sen’s, he began to quicken his pace—and twenty minutes later, frowning in disappointment, he was standing in front of Reddy Curley’s liquor store, only to find that the place was already closed for the night.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook