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"Isaac," said Jimmie Dale pensively, "you've made a good many 'good' bargains. I wonder when you'll make your last! There's more than one looking for 'interest' on those bargains in a pretty grim sort of way."
"Bah!" ejaculated old Isaac. "It is an old story. They are all alike. I am afraid of none of them. I hold them all like--THAT!" His hand opened and closed like a taloned claw.
"And you'd add me to the lot, eh?" said Jimmie Dale. He lifted the revolver, its muzzle on old Isaac, examined the mechanism thoughfully, and lowered it again. "Very well, I'll make a bargain with you--providing it is agreeable to your young friend here."
"Ah!" exclaimed old Isaac shrilly. "So! That is good! It is done then." He chuckled hoarsely. "Any bargain I make he will agree to. Is it not so?" He fixed his eyes on Burton. "Well, is it not so? Speak up! Say--"
He stopped--the words cut short off on his lips. It came without warning--a crash, a pound on the door below--another.
Burton shrank back against the wall.
"My God! The police!" he gasped. "Maddon's found out! We're-- we're caught!"
Jimmie Dale's eyes, on old Isaac, narrowed. The pounding in the alleyway grew louder, more insistent. And then his first suspicion passed--it was no "game" of Isaac's. Crafty though the old fox was, the other's surprise and agitation was too genuine to be questioned.
Still the pounding continued--some one was kicking viciously at the door, and banging a tattoo on the panels with his fists.
Old Isaac's clawlike hands doubled suddenly.
"It is some drunken sot," he snarled out, "that knows no better than to come here and rouse the whole neighbourhood! It is true, in a moment we will have the police running in from the street. But wait--wait--I'll teach the fool a lesson!" He dashed around the table, ran for the window, wrenched the catch up, flung the window open, and, snarling again, leaned out--and instantly the knocking ceased.
And instantly then, with a sharp cry, as the whole ghastly meaning of it swept upon him, Jimmie sprang after the other--too late! Came the roar of a revolver shot, a stream of flame cutting the darkness of the alleyway from the window in the house opposite--and, without a sound, old Isaac crumpled up, hung limply for a moment over the sill, and slid in a heap to the floor.
On his hands and knees, protected from the possibility of another bullet by the height of the sill, Jimmie Dale, quick in every movement now, dragged the inert form toward the table away from the window, and bent hurriedly over the other. A minute perhaps he stayed there--and then rose slowly.
Burton, horror-stricken, unmanned, beside himself, was hanging, clutching with both hands at the table edge.
"He's dead," said Jimmie Dale laconically.
Burton flung out his hands.
"Dead!" he whispered hoarsely. "I--I think I'm going mad. Three days of hell--and now this. We'd--we'd better get out of here quick--they'll get us if--"
Jimmie Dale's hand fell with a tight grip on Burton's shoulder.
"There won't be any more shots fired--pull yourself together!"
Burton stared at him in a demented way.
"What's--what's it mean?" he stammered.
"It means that I didn't put two and two together," said Jimmie Dale a little bitterly. "It means that there's a dozen crooks been dancing old Isaac's tune for a long time--and that some of them have got him at last."
Burton reached out suddenly and clutched Jimmie Dale's arm.
"Then I'm safe!" He mumbled the words, but there was dawning hope, relief in his white face. "Safe! I'm safe--if you'll only give me back those stones. Give them back to me, for God's sake give them back to me! You don't know--you don't understand. I stole them because--because he made me--because I--it was the only chance I had. Oh, my God, you don't know what the last three days have been! Give them back to me, won't you--won't you? You--you don't know!"
"Don't lose your nerve!" said Jimmie Dale sharply. "Sit down!" He pushed the other into the chair. "There's no one will disturb us here for some time at least. What is it that I don't know? That three nights ago you were in a gambling hell, Sagosto's, to be exact, one of the most disreputable in New York--and you went there on the invitation of a stray acquaintance, a man named Perley--shall I describe him for you? A short, slim-built man, black eyes, red hair, beard, and--"
"YOU know that!" The misery, the hopelessness was back in Burton's face again--and suddenly he bent over the table and buried his head in his outflung arms.
There was silence for a moment. Tight-lipped, Jimmie Dale's eyes travelled from Burton's shaking shoulders to the motionless form on the floor. Then he spoke again:
"You're a bit of a rounder, Burton, but I think you've had a lesson that will last you all your life. You were half-drunk when you and Perley began to hobnob over a downtown bar. He said he'd show you some real life, and you went with him to Sagosto's. He gave you a revolver before you went in, and told you the place wasn't safe for an unarmed man. He introduced you to Sagosto, the proprietor, and you were shown to a back room. You drank quite a little there. You and Perley were alone, throwing dice. You got into a quarrel. Perley tried to draw his revolver. You were quicker. You drew the one he had given you--and fired. He fell to the floor--you saw the blood gush from his breast just above the heart--he was dead. In a panic you rushed from the place and out into the street. I don't think you went home that night."
Burton raised his head, showing his haggard face.
"I guess it's no use," he said dully." If you know, others must. I thought only Isaac and Sagosto knew. Why haven't I been arrested? I wish to God I had--I wouldn't have had to-day to answer for."
"I am not through yet," said Jimmie Dale gravely. "The next day old Isaac here sent for you. He said Sagosto had told him of the murder, and had offered to dispose of the corpse and keep his mouth shut for fifty thousand dollars--that no one in his place knew of it except himself. Isaac, for his share, wanted considerably more. You told him you had no such sums, that you had no money. He told you how you could get it--you had access to Maddon's safe, you were Maddon's confidential secretary, fully in your employer's trust, the last man on earth to be suspected--and there were Maddon's famous, priceless rubies."
Jimmie Dale paused. Burton made no answer.
"And so," said Jimmie Dale presently, "to save yourself from the death penalty you took them."
"Yes," said Burton, scarcely above his breath. "Are you an officer? If you are, take me, have done with it! Only for Heaven's sake end it! If you're not--"
Jimmie Dale was not listening. "The cupboard at the rear of the room," she had said. He walked across to it now, opened it, and, after a little search, found a small bundle. He returned with it in his hand, and, kneeling beside the dead man on the floor, his back to Burton, untied it, took out a red wig and beard, and slipped them on to old Isaac's head and face.
"I wonder," he said grimly, as he stood up, "if you ever saw this man before?"
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