|Back||1 2 3||Next|
A moment she hung there, listening; then she slipped the skeleton keys from her pocket, and, in the act of inserting one of them tentatively into the keyhole, she tried the door - and with a little gasp of surprise returned the keys hurriedly to her pocket. The door was unlocked; it had even opened an inch already under her hand.
Again she looked around her, a little startled now; and instinctively her hand in her pocket exchanged the keys for her revolver. But she saw nothing, heard nothing; and it was certainly dark inside there, and therefore only logical to conclude that the room was unoccupied.
Reassured, she pushed the door cautiously and noiselessly open, and stepped inside, and closed the door behind her. She stood still for an instant, and then the round, white ray of her flashlight went dancing inquisitively around the office. It was a medium-sized room, far from ornate in its appointments, bare floored, the furniture of the cheapest - Perlmer's clientele did not insist on oriental rugs and mahogany!
Her appraisal of the room, however, was but cursory. She was interested only in the flat-topped desk in front of her. She stepped quickly around it - and stopped-and a low cry of dismay came from her as she stared at the floor. The lower drawer had been completely removed, and now lay upturned beside the swivel chair, its contents strewn around in all directions.
And for a moment she stared at the scene, nonplused, discomfited. She had been so sure that she would be first - and she had not been first. There was no need to search amongst those papers on the floor. They told their own story. The ones she wanted were already gone.
In a numbed way, mechanically, she retreated to the door; and, with the flashlight playing upon it, she noticed for the first time that the lock had been roughly forced. It was but corroborative of the despoiled drawer; and, at the same time, the obvious reason why the door had not been relocked when whoever had come here had gone out again.
Whoever had come here! She could have laughed out hysterically. Was there any doubt as to who it was? One of Danglar's emissaries; the Cricket, perhaps-or perhaps even Danglar himself! They had seen to it that lack of prompt action, at least, would not be the cause of marring their plans.
A little dazed, overwrought, confused at the ground being cut from under her where she had been so confident of a sure footing, she made her way out of the building, and to the street - and for a block walked almost aimlessly along. And then suddenly she turned hurriedly into a cross street, and headed over toward the East Side. The experience had not been a pleasant one, and it had upset most thoroughly all her calculations; but it was very far, after all, from being disastrous. It meant simply that she must now find Nicky Viner himself and warn the man, and there was ample time in which to do that. The code message specifically stated midnight as the hour at which they proposed to favor old Viner with their unhallowed attentions, and as it was but a little after ten now, she had nearly a full two hours in which to accomplish what should not take her more than a few minutes.
Rhoda Gray's lips tightened a little, as she hurried along. Old Nicky Viner still lived in the same disreputable tenement in which he had lived on the night of that murder two years ago, and she could not ward off the thought that it had been - yes, and was - an ideal place for a murder, from the murderer's standpoint! The neighborhood was one of the toughest in New York, and the tenement itself was frankly nothing more than a den of crooks. True, she had visited there more than once, had visited Nicky Viner there; but she had gone there then as the White Moll, to whom even the most abandoned would have touched his cap. To-night it was very different - she went there as a woman. And yet, after all - she amended her own thoughts, smiling a little seriously - surely she could disclose herself as the White Moll there again to-night if the actual necessity arose, for surely crooks, pokegetters, shillabers and lags though they were, and though the place teemed with the dregs of the underworld, no one of them, even for the reward that might be offered, would inform against her to the police! And yet - again the mental pendulum swung the other way - she was not so confident of that as she would like to be. In a general way there could be no question but that she could count on the loyalty of those who lived there; but there were always those upon whom one could never count, those who were dead to all sense of loyalty, and alive only to selfish gain and interest - a human trait that, all too unfortunately, was not confined to those alone who lived in that shadowland outside the law. Her face, beneath the thick veil, relaxed a little. Well, she certainly did not intend to make a test case of it and disclose herself there as the White Moll, if she could help it! She would enter the tenement unnoticed if she could, and make her way to Nicky Viner's two miserable rooms on the second floor as secretively as she could. And, knowing the place as she did, she was quite satisfied that, if she were careful enough and cautious enough, she could both enter and leave without being seen by any one except, of course, Nicky Viner.
She walked on quickly. Five minutes, ten minutes passed; and now, in a narrow street, lighted mostly by the dull, yellow glow that seeped up from the sidewalk through basement entrances, queer and forbidding portals to sinister interiors, or filtered through the dirty windows of uninviting little shops that ran the gamut from Chinese laundries to oyster dens, she halted, drawn back in the shadows of a doorway, and studied a tenement building that was just ahead of her. That was where old Nicky Viner lived. A smile of grim whimsicality touched her lips. Not a light showed in the place from top to bottom. From its exterior it might have been uninhabited, even long deserted. But to one who knew, it was quite the normal condition, quite what one would expect. Those who lived there confined their activities mostly to the night; and their exodus to their labors began when the labors of the world at large ended - with the fall of darkness.
For a little while she watched the place, and kept glancing up and down the street; and then, seizing her opportunity when for half a block or more the street was free of pedestrians, she stole forward and reached the tenement door. It was half open, and she slipped quickly inside into the hall.
|Back||1 2 3||Next|