The Adventures of Jimmie Dale II
By Frank L. Packard
Public Domain Books
Part Two: the Woman in the Case - Chapter I: Below the Dead Line
Whisperings! Always whisperings, low, sibilant, floating errantly from all sides, until they seemed a component part of the drug-laden atmosphere itself. And occasionally another sound: the soft SLAP- SLAP of loose-slippered feet, the faint rustle of equally loose- fitting garments. And everywhere the sweet, sickish smell of opium. It was Chang Foo’s, simply a cellar or two deeper in Chang Foo’s than that in which Dago Jim had quarrelled once–and died!
Larry the Bat, vicious-faced, unkempt, disreputable, lay sprawled out on one of the dive’s bunks, an opium pipe beside him. But Larry the Bat was not smoking; instead, his ear was pressed closely against the boarding that formed the rather flimsy partition at the side of the bunk. One heard many things in Chang Foo’s if one cared to listen–if one could first win one’s way through the carefully guarded gateway, that to the uninitiated offered nothing more interesting than the entrance to a Chinese tea-shop, and an uninviting one at that!
HAD HE BEEN FOLLOWED IN HERE? He had been shadowed for the last hour; of that, at least, he was certain. Why? By whom? For an hour he had dodged in and out through the dens of the underworld, as only one who was at home there and known to all could do–and at last he had taken refuge in Chang Foo’s like a fox burrowing deep into its hole.
Few could find their way into the most infamous opium den in all New York, where not only the poppy ruled as master, but where crime was hatched, ay, and carried to its ghastly consummation, sometimes, as well; and of those few, not one but was of the underworld itself. And it was that fact which held his muscles strained and rigid now under the miserable rags that covered them, and it was that which kept the keen, quick brain alert and active, every faculty keyed up and tense. If it were the police, he had little to fear, for they could not force their way in without warning; but if it were the underworld, he was in imminent peril, and had done little better than run himself into a trap from which there was no escape.
“DEATH TO THE GRAY SEAL!"–he had heard that whispered more than once in this very place. Who knew at what moment the role of Larry the Bat would be uncovered, and the underworld, where now he held so high a place, would be at his throat like a pack of snarling wolves! Who had been shadowing him during the last hour?
Whisperings! Nothing tangible! He could catch no words. Only the never-ending whisperings of gathered groups here and there–and sometimes the clink of coin where some game was in progress.
The curtain before his bunk was drawn suddenly aside–and Larry the Bat’s fingers, where his hand was carelessly hidden by his body tightened upon his automatic.
“Smokee some more?”
The fingers relaxed. It was only Sam Wah, one of the attendants.
“Nix!” said Larry the Bat, in a slightly muddled tone. “Got enough.”
The curtain fell into place again. Larry the Bat’s lips set in a thin smile. Ultimately it made little difference whether it was the police or the underworld! The smile grew thinner. It was the flip of a coin, that was all! With one there was the death house at Sing Sing for the Gray Seal; with the other–well, there were many ways, from a shot or a knife thrust in the open street, to his murder in some hidden dive like this of Chang Foo’s, for instance, where he now was–the Gray Seal was responsible for the occupancy of too many penitentiary cells by those of the underworld to look for any other fate!
He raised himself up sharply on his elbow. A shrill, high note, like the scream of a parrakeet, rang out a second time. He tore the curtain aside, and jumped to his feet. All around him, in the twinkling of an eye, Chinamen in fluttering blouses, chattering like magpies, mingled with snarling, cursing whites, were running madly. A voice, prefaced with an oath, bawled out behind him, as he sprang forward and joined the rush:
“Beat it! De cops! Beat it!”
The police! A raid! Was it for HIM? From rooms, an amazing number of them, more forms rushed out, joined, divided, separated, and dashed, some this way, some that, along branching passageways. There had been raids before, the police had begun to change their minds about Chang Foo’s, but Chang Foo’s was not an easy place to raid. House after house in that quarter of Chinese laundries, of tea shops, of chop-suey joints, opened one into the other through secret passages in the cellars. Larry the Bat plunged down a staircase, and halted in the darkness of a cellar, drawing back against the wall while the flying feet of his fellow fugitives scurried by him.
Was it for HIM, this raid? If not, the police had not a hope of getting him if he kept his head; for back in Chang Foo’s proper, which would be quite closed off now, Chang Foo would be blandly submitting to arrest, offering himself as a sort of glorified sacrifice while the police confiscated opium and fan-tan layouts. If the police had no other purpose than that in mind, Chang Foo would simply pay a fine; the next night the place would be in full blast again; and Chang Foo, higher than ever in the confidence of the underworld’s aristocracy, would reap his reward–and that would be all there was to it.
But was that all? The raid had followed significantly close upon the heels of his entry into Chang Foo’s. Larry the Bat began to move forward again. He dared not follow the others, and, later on, when quiet was restored, issue out into the street from any one of the various houses in which he might temporarily have taken refuge. There was a chance in that, a chance that the police might be more zealous than usual, even if he particularly was not their game–and he could take no chance. Arrest for Larry the Bat, even on suspicion, could have but one conclusion–not a pleasant one–the disclosure that Larry the Bat was not Larry the Bat at all, but Jimmie Dale, the millionaire club-man, and, to complete a fatal triplication, that Larry the Bat and Jimmie Dale was the Gray Seal upon whose head was fixed a price!
All was silence around him now, except that from overhead came occasionally the muffled tread of feet. He felt his way along into a black, narrow passage, emerged into a second cellar, swept the place with a single, circling gleam from a pocket flashlight, passed a stairway that led upward, reached the opposite wall, and, dropping on hands and knees, crawled into what, innocently enough, appeared to be the opening of a coal bin.
He knew Chang Foo’s well–as he knew the ins and outs of every den and place he frequented, knew them as a man knows such things when his life at any moment might hang upon his knowledge.
He was in another passage now, and this, in a few steps, brought him to a door. Here he halted, and stood for a full five minutes, absolutely motionless, absolutely still, listening. There was nothing–not a sound. He tried the door cautiously. It was locked. The slim, sensitive, tapering fingers of Jimmie Dale, unrecognisable now in the grimy digits of Larry the Bat, felt tentatively over the lock. To fingers that seemed in their tips to possess all the human senses, that time and again in their delicate touch upon the dial of a safe had mocked at human ingenuity and driven the police into impotent frenzy, this was a pitiful thing. From his pocket came a small steel instrument that was quickly and deftly inserted in the keyhole. There was a click, the door swung open, and Jimmie Dale, alias Larry the Bat, stepped outside into a back yard half a block away from the entrance to Chang Foo’s.
Again he listened. There did not appear to be any unusual excitement in the neighbourhood. From open windows above him and from adjoining houses came the ordinary, commonplace sounds of voices talking and laughing, even the queer, weird notes of a Chinese chant. He stole noiselessly across the yard, out into the lane, and made his way rapidly along to the cross street.
In a measure, now, he was safe; but one thing, a very vital thing, remained to be done. It was absolutely necessary that he should know whether he was the quarry that the police had been after in the raid, if it was the police who had been shadowing him all evening. If it was the police, there was but one meaning to it–Larry the Bat was known to be the Gray Seal, and a problem perilous enough in any aspect confronted him. Dare he risk the Sanctuary–for the clothes of Jimmie Dale? Or was it safer to burglarise, as he had once done before, his own mansion on Riverside Drive?
His thoughts were running riot, and he frowned, angry with himself. There was time enough to think of that when he knew that it was the police against whom he had to match his wits.
Well in the shadow of the buildings, he moved swiftly along the side street until he came to the corner of the street on which, halfway down the block, fronted Chang Foo’s tea-shop. A glance in that direction, and Jimmie Dale drew a breath of relief. A patrol wagon was backed up to the curb, and a half dozen officers were busy loading it with what was evidently Chang Foo’s far from meagre stock of gambling appurtenances; while Chang Foo himself, together with Sam Wah and another attendant, were in the grip of two other officers, waiting possibly for another patrol wagon. There was a crowd, too, but the crowd was at a respectful distance–on the opposite side of the street.
Jimmie Dale still hugged the corner. A man swaggered out from a doorway, quite close to Chang Foo’s, and came on along the street. As the other reached the corner, Jimmie Dale sidled forward.
“’Ello, Chick!” he said, out of the corner of his mouth. “Wot’s de lay?”
“’Ello, Larry!” returned the other. “Aw, nuthin’! De nutcracker on Chang, dat’s all.”
“I t’ought mabbe dey was lookin’ for some guy dat was in dere," observed Jimmie Dale.
“Nuthin’ doin’!” the other answered. “I was in dere meself. De whole mob beat it clean, an’ de bulls never batted an eye. Didn’t youse pipe me make me get-away outer Shanghai’s a minute ago? De bulls never went nowhere except into Chang’s. Dere’s a new lootenant in de precinct inaugeratin’ himself, dat’s all. S’long, Larry–I gotta date.”
“S’long, Chick!” responded Jimmie Dale–and started slowly back along the cross street.
It was not the police, then, who were interested in his movements! Then who? He shook his head with a little, savage, impotent gesture. One thing was clear: it was too early to risk a return to the Sanctuary and attempt the rehabilitation of Jimmie Dale. If any one was on the hunt for Larry the Bat, the Sanctuary would be the last place to be overlooked.
He turned the next corner, hesitated a moment in front of a garishly lighted dance hall, and finally shuffled in through the door, made his way across the floor, nodding here and there to the elite of gangland, and, with a somewhat arrogant air of proprietorship, sat down at a table in the corner. Little better than a tramp in appearance, certainly the most disreputable-looking object in the place, even the waiter who approached him accorded him a certain curious deference–was not Larry the Bat the most celebrated dope fiend below the dead line?
“Gimme a mug o’ suds!” ordered Jimmie Dale, and sprawled royally back in his chair.
Under the rim of his slouch hat, pulled now far over his eyes, he searched the faces around him. If he had been asked to pick the actors for a revel from the scum of the underworld, he could not have improved upon the gathering. There were perhaps a hundred men and women in the room, the majority dancing, and, with the exception of a few sight-seeing slummers, they were men and women whose acquaintance with the police was intimate but not cordial–far from cordial.
Jimmie Dale shrugged his shoulders, and sipped at the glass that had been set before him. It was grimly ironic that he should be, not only there, but actually a factor and a part of the underworld’s intimate life! He, Jimmie Dale, a wealthy man, a member of New York’s exclusive clubs, a member of New York’s most exclusive society! It was inconceivable. He smiled sardonically. Was it? Well, then, it was none the less true. His life unquestionably was one unique, apart from any other man’s, but it was, for all that, actual and real.
There had been three years of it now–since SHE had come into his life. Jimmie Dale slouched down a little in his chair. The ice was thin, perilously thin, that he was skating on now. Each letter, with its demand upon him to match his wits against police or underworld, or against both combined, perhaps, made that peril a little greater, a little more imminent–if that were possible, when already his life was almost literally carried, daily, hourly, in his hand. Not that he rebelled against it; it was worth the price that some day he expected he must pay–the price of honour, wealth, a name disgraced, ruin, death. Was he quixotic? Immoderately so? He smiled gravely. Perhaps. But he would do it all over again if the choice were his. There were those who blessed the name of the Gray Seal, as well as those who cursed it. And there was the Tocsin!
Who was she? He did not know, but he knew that he had come to love her, come to care for her, and that she had come to mean everything in life to him. He had never seen her, to know her face. He had never seen her face, but he knew her voice–ay, he had even held her for a moment, the moment of wildest happiness he had ever known, in his arms. That night when he had entered his library, his own particular den in his own house, and in the darkness had found her there–found her finally through no effort of his own, when he had searched so fruitlessly for years to find her, using every resource at his command to find her! And she, because she had come of her own volition, relying upon him, had held him in honour to let her go as she had come–without looking upon her face! Exquisite irony! But she had made him a promise then–that the work of the Gray Seal was nearly over–that soon there would be an end to the mystery that surrounded her–that he should know all–that he should know HER.
He smiled again, but it was a twisted smile on the mechanically misshapen lips of Larry the Bat. NEARLY over! Who knew? That “nearly” might be too late! Even tonight he had been shadowed, was skulking even now in this place as a refuge. Who knew? Another hour, and the newsboys might be shrieking their “Uxtra! Uxtra! De Gray Seal caught! De millionaire Jimmie Dale de Jekyll an’ Hyde of real life!”
Jimmie Dale straightened up suddenly in his seat. There was a shout, an oath bawled out high above the riot of noise, a chorus of feminine shrieks from across the room. What was the matter with the underworld to-night? He seemed fated to find nothing but centres of disturbance– first a raid at Chang Foo’s, and now this. What was the matter here? They were stampeding toward him from the other side of the room. There was the roar of a revolver shot–another. Black Ike! He caught an instant’s glimpse of the gunman’s distorted face through the crowd. That was it probably–a row over some moll.
And then, as Jimmie Dale lunged up from his chair to his feet to escape the rush, pandemonium itself seemed to break loose. Yells, shots, screams, and oaths filled the air. The crowd surged this way and that. Tables were overturned and sent crashing to the floor. And then came sudden darkness, as some one of the attendants in misguided excitability switched off the lights.
The darkness but served to increase the panic, not allay it. With a savage snap of his jaws, Jimmie Dale swung from his table in the corner with the intention of making his way out by a side door behind him–it was a case of the police again, and the patrolman outside would probably be pulling a riot call by now. And the police– He stopped suddenly, as though he had been struck. An envelope, thrust there out of the darkness, was in his hand; and her voice, HERS, the Tocsin’s, was sounding in his ears:
“Jimmie! Jimmie! I’ve been trying all evening to catch you! Quick! Get to the Sanctuary and change your clothes. There’s not an instant to lose! It’s for my sake to-night!”
And then a surging mob was around him on every side, and, pushing, jostling, half lifting him at times from his feet, carried him forward with its rush, and with him in its midst burst through the door and out into the street.