Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale Part 2( Chapter 16)

Chapter XVI: “Death to the Gray Seal!”

On Jimmie Dale ran. Across on Fourth Avenue he swung on a car that took him to Astor Place. Then striking east once more, making a detour to avoid the Bowery, he ran on at top speed again. To reach the Sanctuary, not before the Magpie should have spread the alarm, that was impossible, but to reach it before the underworld should have had time to recover its breath, as it were, before the underworld should have had time to act–that was his only chance! The Magpie had, at the outside, a start of fifteen minutes; but he, Jimmie Dale, had probably retrieved five minutes of that in the time he had made in getting downtown. That left the Magpie ten to the good. How long would it take the Magpie to bring the underworld swarming like hornets around the Sanctuary?
On Larry the Bat ran. At the Sanctuary were the clothes, the belongings of Jimmie Dale. Could he save Jimmie Dale! If he could get there, change, and get out again, the way was clear for him–as clear as for the Tocsin now. In a few hours the police would have every member of the Crime Club in the trap; there would be no watch any more around his house on Riverside Drive; and he would be free to return there and resume his normal life as Jimmie Dale again if he could make the Sanctuary in time! But let the Magpie get there first, let the underworld tear the place to pieces in its fury as it would do, let them discover that hiding place under the flooring, for instance, and the Gray Seal would not be merely Larry the Bat, but Jimmie Dale as well, and–a cry escaped him even as he ran–it meant ruin, the disgrace of an honoured name, death, crimes without number at his door. Crimes! The Gray Seal had never committed a crime! But the crimes attributed to the Gray Seal he could not disprove, not one of them! He had meant them to appear as crimes– and he had succeeded so well that the Gray Seal’s name, execrated, was a synonym for the most callous, dangerous, and unscrupulous criminal of the age!
He was gasping for breath as finally, making for the side door, he darted into the alleyway that flanked the Sanctuary. What story would the Magpie tell? Not the truth, of course–that would let the Magpie in for what had happened that night, for the Magpie must be well aware that he had shot at least one of the two men in that room. But the truth wasn’t necessary; it was foreign, and had no bearing on the one outstanding fact–the Gray Seal was Larry the Bat. At the present moment the Magpie had a double incentive for “getting” the Gray Seal–the Gray Seal was the only one who could prove murder against him that night in the LaSalle mansion. And afterwards, when the police version of the affair was made public, the Magpie, to save himself, would be careful enough to do or say nothing to contradict “Henry LaSalle’s” confession!
Larry the Bat slipped in through the door, halted there, listened; and then began to mount the rickety stairs, with his silent tread. At the top he paused again. Nothing–no sound! They were not here yet–so far he was in time! He stepped to the Sanctuary door, unlocked it, passed into the squalid, miserable room that had harboured him for so long as Larry the Bat, locked the door behind him, crossed quickly to the window to make sure that the shutters were closed–and then, for the first time, as the gray light streaked in through the interstices, he was conscious that it was already dawn. So much the more need for haste then!
He whipped out his revolver and laid it at his hand on the dilapidated table; then the flooring in the corner was up in an instant, and he began to strip off the rags of Larry the Bat. Boots, mismated socks, the torn, patched trousers, the greasy flannel shirt, the threadbare coat, the nondescript slouch hat were thrown in a pile on the floor; and with them, from their hiding- place, the grease paints and heterogeneous collection of make-up accessories. This done, he began to slip on the clothes of Jimmie Dale; and, when half dressed, turned to the table again to remove the characteristic grime, stain, and paint of Larry the Bat from face, hands, wrists, throat, and neck. This was a longer, more arduous task. He reached for the cracked pitcher to pour more water into the basin–and, snatching up his revolver instead, whirled to face the door.
Some one was outside! He had caught the creak of a footstep upon the stairs. In a flash he was across the room and crouched by the door. Yes, the step was nearer now–at the head of the stairs–on the landing. His revolver lifted, holding a steady bead on the door panel. And then there came a low voice:
“Jimmie! Jimmie! Are you there? Quick, Jimmie! Are you there?”
The Tocsin! What was she doing here! Why had he not warned her up there on the avenue, fool that he was, that of all places she was to keep away from here!
She slipped into the room as he unlocked the door.
“They’re coming, Jimmie!” she panted breathlessly. “There’s not an instant to lose! Listen! When the Magpie ran from the house, I ran with him–but it"–she tried to smile–"it wasn’t to obey you, to run away–I had made up my mind I wouldn’t do that–it was to find out from him what had happened. He told me you were the Gray Seal. He did not suspect me. He thinks you were no more than just Larry the Bat to me, as you were to everybody else. He went straight to Chicago Ike’s gambling rooms and found the Skeeter’s gang there–you know them, Red Mose, the Midget, Harve Thoms, and the Skeeter–you remember your fight with them over old Luddy’s diamonds! Well, they have not forgotten, either! They are on their way here, now! The news that you are the Gray Seal is travelling like lightning all through the underworld–there will be a mob here on the Skeeter’s heels. So, Jimmie–quick! Run!”
Run! Half Larry the Bat, half Jimmie Dale–and run! In another five minutes, perhaps–yes. But there probably would not be five minutes–and she–if she were found here!
“Yes,” he said quietly. “I’ll get away in a moment. You go at once. I’ll"–he was smiling at her reassuringly–"I’ll meet you at–”
She looked at him then for an instant–interrupting him quickly, as she shook her head.
“I didn’t notice, Jimmie. You cannot go like that–can you? It would be even worse than being caught as Larry the Bat. Hurry then–I am not going without you.”
“No!” he said. “Go now! Go at once, Marie–while you can. You have risked your life as it is to come here and tell me this. For God’s sake, go now!”
The great, brown eyes were smiling bravely through a sudden mist. She shook her head again.
“Not without you, Jimmie.”
It brought a fierce, wild throb of joy upon him–and then a cold, sickening fear.
“Listen!” he cried out desperately. “You must go now! You cannot take any chances now, Marie. Everything is right for you. That man who posed as your uncle is dead–the leader of the Crime Club is dead. Don’t you understand what that means! You have only to be Marie LaSalle again and claim your own. I cannot tell you all now– there’s no time. That house was the Crime Club itself. The police will get them all. Don’t you see! Don’t you see! Everything is clear for you now–and now go! Go–you must go!”
She was staring at him, a strange wonder in her face.
“Clear! All clear–for me! I–I can go back to–to my own life again!” It was as though she were whispering some amazing thing of unbelievable joy to herself.
“YES!” he cried out again. “Yes! But go–go, Marie!”
But now, for answer, suddenly she reached out and took the key from the door and put it in the pocket of her dress.
“We will go together, Jimmie–or not at all,” she said simply. “We are wasting precious moments. Hurry and dress!”
He hesitated miserably. What could he do–if she WOULD not go! And it was true–the moments were flying. Better, rather than futile argument, to use them as she said. There was still a chance! Why not! Five minutes! He could do better than that! He MUST do better than that!
Without a word, he ran back across the room. In frantic haste, from face, hands, wrists, and neck came the stain. There was still time. She was standing there by the door, listening. She, the Tocsin, she whom he loved, she who, all through the years that had gone, had been so strangely elusive and yet so intimately a part of his life, SHE was standing there now, here with him–in peril with every second that passed!
He had only to slip on his coat and vest now–and make a bundle of Larry the Bat’s things on the floor, so that he could carry them away to destroy them. He stooped to gather up the clothes–and straightened suddenly–and jumped toward the door again.
“They are coming, Jimmie!” she called, in a low voice. But he had already heard them–the stairs were creaking loudly under the tread of many feet. He pushed the Tocsin hurriedly back against the wall at the side of the door.
“Stand there!” he said, under his breath. “Out of the line of fire! Don’t move!”
There was a rush against the door–and then a voice growled:
“Aw, cut dat out! Wot do youse want to do–scare him away by bustin’ it! Pick de lock, an’ we’ll lay for him inside till he shows up.”
It was the Skeeter’s voice. The Skeeter and his gang–the worst apaches in the city of New York! Professional assassins, death contractors, he had called them–and the lowest bidders! A man’s life any time for twenty-five dollars! No, they were not likely to forget the affair of the pushcart man, to forget old Luddy and his diamonds, to forget–the Gray Seal! And they were only the vanguard of what was to come!
Some one was working at the lock now. There was one way to stop that. It would not take them long to find out that he WAS there once the door was opened! Better know it with the door SHUT! Jimmie Dale lifted his revolver coolly and fired through the panel.
A burst of yells answered the shot; and among them, high above the others, the Magpie’s scream:
“We got him! We got him! He’s dere now!”
And then it seemed that pandemonium broke loose–there was a volley of shots, the bullets splintering through the door panels as from a machine gun, so fast they came–and then another rush against the door.
Flat on the floor, but well back and to one side, Jimmie Dale fired steadily–again and again.
Came screams of pain, yells, and oaths–and they fell back from the door.
And now from above, from overhead, came tumult–windows thrown up, the stamp of feet, cries of fright. And from the street, a low, sullen roar. The underworld was gathering fast!
Once more the rush upon the door–and Jimmie Dale, a grim, twisted smile upon his lips, emptied his revolver into the panels. Once more they fell back–and then there came the Skeeter’s voice, snarling like an infuriated beast:
“He’ll get de lot of us like dis! Cut it out! Besides, we’ll have de bulls down here in a minute–an’ he’s OUR meat, not theirs. Dey’d be too damned soft wid him–dey’d only send him to de chair. Youse chase upstairs, Mose, an’ pass de word to beat it–an’ beat it quick. We’ll BURN de skunk out–dat’s wot. An’ de bulls can stand alongside an’ watch, if dey likes–but he’s our meat.”
Jimmie Dale did not dare to look at the Tocsin’s face. Mechanically he refilled the magazine of his automatic–and lay there, waiting. The roar from the street grew louder. They seemed to be fighting out there, as though an inadequate number of police were trying to disperse a mob–and not succeeding! Pretty soon, with the riot call in, there would probably be a battle–for the Gray Seal! Sublime irony! It was death at the hands of either one!
Children whimpered on the stairs outside, men swore, women cried, feet shuffled hurriedly by as the tenement emptied. Occasionally, a pertinent invitation to him to remain where he was, there was a vicious rip through the panel, and the drumming whir of a bullet flying through the room. And then a curious, ominous crackling sound–and then the smell of smoke.
Jimmie Dale stood up, his face drawn and haggard. The tenement would go like matchwood, burn like a bonfire, with any kind of a start–and there was no doubt about the start! The Skeeter, the Magpie, and the rest would have seen that it had headway enough to serve their purpose before either firemen or police could thwart them. He, Jimmie Dale, could take his choice: walk out into a bullet, or stay there and–he smiled miserably as his eyes fell upon the pile of Larry the Bat’s clothing on the floor. There was no longer need to worry about ITS destruction–the fire would take care of that only too well! And then a low, bitter cry came to his lips, and he clenched his hands. If it were only himself–only himself! He crossed to the Tocsin and caught her in his arms.
“Oh, my God–Marie!” he faltered.
The cape and hood had fallen from her, and with the hood had fallen the gray-streaked hair of Silver Mag–and now as she smiled at him it was from a face that was very beautiful and very brave and very full of tenderness.
And he held her there–and neither spoke.
It seeped in under the threshold of the door, it came from everywhere, filling the room–the black, strangling smoke. Outside in the hall all was silence now–save for that crackle of flame that grew in volume, that came now in quick, sharp reports, like revolver shots. From out in the street swelled a cry: “Death to the Gray Seal!” Then the clang of bells, the roar and rattle of fire apparatus, strident voices bellowing orders, and the crowd again, blood hungry: “Death to the Gray Seal!”
There was a chance, just one–if the fire had no headway along the upper end of the landing–and if they had not thought to set a watch for him ABOVE! They–the Magpie, the Skeeter, and his gang–must have been driven even out of the house now by the smoke and flame.
“Give me the key, I am going to open the door, Marie,” he said quietly. “Cover your face with a handkerchief, anything, and run to the LEFT to the next flight of stairs. There are two flats above this–we’ll make the roof if we can. Now–are you ready?”
It was an instant before she answered, an instant in which she lifted her face to his, and held his face between her two hands–and then:
“I am ready, Jimmie.”
He flung open the door, his arm around her to help her forward–and instinctively, with a cry, fell back for a moment. With the inrush of the draft poured the smoke, and through it, lurid, yellow, showed the flames leaping from the stair well.
And then all was blind madness. Together they ran. At the foot of the stairs she fell, recovered herself, staggered up another–and fell again. He caught her up in his arms and, staggering now as she had staggered, went on. His lungs seemed to be bursting. His limbs grew weak and trembled under him. He could not see or breathe. The nauseating fumes suffocated him, bringing an intolerable agony. He gained the first landing above. There was one more–one more! If he could only rest here for a moment! Yes, that was it–rest. It wasn’t so bad here now. She stirred in his arms, struggled to her feet–and he was helping her on again, and up the next flight of stairs.
And suddenly he found himself laughing in hysteria–for they were climbing a half stair, half ladderway at the end of the upper landing, and the open skylight was above them, and they were drinking in the pure, fresh air–and now they were out upon the roof, and the roar from the street was in their ears, like the roar of great waters from some canyon far below. Jimmie Dale tried to speak, and found his lips were cracked and dry. He wet them with his tongue.
“Don’t stand up–we’d be seen–CRAWL,” he mumbled hoarsely.
It took a long time–over one roof, and then another, and yet another–and then through the skylight of a tenement whose occupants were either craning from the front windows, or were on the street below. It was, perhaps, half an hour–and then they, too, were standing in the street, and all about them the crowd was shouting in wild excitement.
Up the block, inside the fire lines, the Sanctuary was blazing furiously–and now suddenly the wall seemed to bulge outward. It brought a yell from the crowd:
“Death to the Gray Seal!”
She pulled at his arm.
“Let us get away! Let us get away, Jimmie!” she whispered frantically.
A strange smile was on Jimmie Dale’s lips.
“We’re safe now–for always,” he whispered back. “Look!”
The Sanctuary wall bulged farther outward, seemed to hang an instant hesitant in mid-air–and fell with a mighty crash.
The Gray Seal was dead!

 

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