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Novkey > Library > Paranormal > Doors of the Night

Doors of the Night


Author: Frank L. Packard Total hits: 3848 User hits: 1 Date: 05-12-2014

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Billy Kane’s face was impassive. The keen, alert brain was working with desperate speed. There had come in a flash with the other’s words a vista, not quite clear, nor distinct, but a vista that seemed to promise the way and the chance, not only of immediate escape from this place here, but perhaps more than that—assistance, help, perhaps even refuge and temporary sanctuary from the police who, before morning, would be scouring every quarter of New York in an effort to capture him. This man, a thief, a criminal, one of the underworld himself, had obviously mistaken him, Billy Kane, for another of his own ilk—for one known as the Rat. His appearance, disreputable, blood-stained and mud-covered, had undoubtedly been a very large factor in bringing about the man’s mistake, it was true; but that did not in any way apply to his, Billy Kane’s, face, and his face had been, and was still, full in the pitiless glare of the flashlight. Therefore he must to a very remarkable extent resemble this so-called Rat. And, moreover, this Rat must be a figure of some consequence in the underworld; for, even through the man’s hoarse and amazed tones, Billy Kane’s quick ear had caught a note of almost cringing deference. And then Billy Kane’s under jaw crept out a little, and his eyes narrowed. Well, for the moment, at least, he would play the part—because he must.

“Who in hell are you?” he demanded gruffly. “I can’t see you behind that light.”

“I’m Whitie Jack,” the other answered mechanically.

“Whitie Jack, eh?” snapped Billy Kane. “Well, then”—his hand shot out, and pushed the flashlight roughly away—“take your cursed lamp out of my eyes? What are you playing at?”

“Sure!” mumbled the man. “Sure—it’s all right! Only youse gave me de jumps sneakin’ in here. Bundy Morgan—de Rat! Wot’s de idea?”

Nothing perhaps would confirm the man more in his mistake than an allusion to the common enemy—the police. Billy Kane dropped into the vernacular. But the man’s reference to “de swells youse used to know” had given him his cue. The Rat at one time had probably known quite a different station in life, and the Rat’s speech therefore, even in the vernacular, would hardly be ungrammatical.

“A coat,” said Billy Kane tersely. “The bulls have got my costume spotted.”

“Swipe me!” Whitie Jack drew in his breath in a low whistle. “De bulls—eh? So dat’s de lay! Well, youse wait a minute, an’ I’ll get youse one. Youse look as though youse had blamed near cashed in! Youse have spilled a lot of red out of dat shoulder, eh?”

“It’s pretty bad,” answered Billy Kane laconically.

“Sure!” said Whitie Jack again; and then, eagerly, the deference back in his voice: “Well, youse wait a minute, Bundy, an’ I’ll get youse de best coat de old geezer’s got—though dat’s not sayin’ much, for dere’s nothin’ here but a bunch of rags.”

The man was gone. Billy Kane leaned back against the wall. His hand swept across his eyes. It seemed as though for hours he had been living through some horrible and ghastly nightmare from which he could not awake. He was Billy Kane, whom the world, in the morning, would proclaim the murderer of David Ellsworth; but he was also now Billy Kane, alias Bundy Morgan, alias the Rat! Again his hand swept across his eyes. And the Rat—who was the Rat? And what——

Whitie Jack was back.

“Here!” said Whitie Jack. “Here youse are!” He handed Billy Kane a coat, and his flashlight fell again on Billy Kane’s shoulder. “Say, dat’s bad!” he jerked out; and then, irrelevantly, “Say, wouldn’t it sting youse—youse showin’ up here! When did youse blow into town, Bundy?”

“To-night,” said Billy Kane.

“Well, youse didn’t take long in startin’ something!” said Whitie Jack admiringly. He helped Billy Kane on with the coat. “Was it a big one, Bundy?”

“No,” said Billy Kane. “Only a fight, but someone got hurt in the fight—get me, Whitie? And the bulls are out for fair.”

Whitie Jack drew in his breath in a low, comprehensive whistle again.

“Sing Sing, an’ de juice route—eh?” he muttered. “Did dey spot who youse were?”

“No,” said Billy Kane.

“Aw, well den, wot de hell!” observed Whitie Jack, with a sudden grin. “Dat’s easy! Youse have got a coat now, an’ we’ll beat it over for yer dump, an’ dat’s de end of it! You have got to get dat shoulder fixed, an’ I’m some guy wid de bandage stuff—-believe me!”

Billy Kane did not answer for a moment. Well, why not? He had accepted the absent Rat’s personality, why not the absent Rat’s hospitality? It would afford him shelter for the moment, and he was living, feeling, groping his way now only from moment to moment. Also, and what was of even more urgent importance, he must somehow and in some way get his wound dressed.

The flashlight in Whitie Jack’s hand was sweeping in a circle around the room—in a sort of precautionary leave-taking survey of the place, as it were. The room was evidently the proprietor’s office; but from what Billy Kane could see of it, it was bare and uninviting enough. He caught a glimpse of a rough table and a couple of chairs, and then the flashlight went out. But he was still staring, through the darkness now, toward the far end of the room—and it seemed that he could still see just as vividly as though the light still played upon the spot. There was an old safe there, a large and cumbrous thing, long out of date, and the door sagged on its hinges where it had been blown open, and the floor around it was littered with the books and papers it had evidently contained.

“That’s a bum job you made, Whitie!” commented Billy Kane sarcastically. “You’re an artist, you are! What did you expect to get out of a piker hang-out like this?”

“Aw, forget it!” returned Whitie Jack. “It ain’t so bum! I’d like to see youse crack a box in here wid soup, an’ not wake de whole town up. Dat’s wot I get mine for—a century note—see? Dere wasn’t nothin’ in de safe! Not a nickel! It’s a stall—savvy? But, come on, Bundy, we’ll beat it out of here, an’ get youse fixed up.”

A stall! What did Whitie Jack mean? Whitie Jack, at Antonio Laverto’s instigation, had blown open the safe, knowing beforehand that there was nothing in it! What was Laverto’s game? Billy Kane mechanically made his way out along the passage, the flashlight winking in Whitie Jack’s hand behind him. What was the game? Laverto was no fool, and there seemed an ominous something back of it all, but he dared not press Whitie Jack, or appear too inquisitive. His own position now was precarious enough as it was, and needed all his wits to see him through. For instance, they were going now to the Rat’s quarters, to what was supposedly his, Billy Kane’s, quarters—and he had not the faintest idea where, or in what direction, those quarters might be! Billy Kane smiled grimly in the darkness. But Whitie Jack evidently knew. Therefore Whitie Jack, without knowing it, must be made to act as guide!

They were outside now. Whitie Jack had closed the door. Billy Kane raised his hand to his head, smiled grimly again to himself in the darkness, and stumbled heavily against his companion.

“Wot’s wrong?” whispered Whitie Jack anxiously. “Here, buck up, Bundy!”

“I guess I’m bad—worse than I thought I was—my head’s going round,” mumbled Billy Kane. “You’ll have to help me, Whitie.”

“Sure, I will!” returned Whitie Jack encouragingly. He slipped his arm through Billy Kane’s. “Youse just buck up, Bundy! An’ don’t youse be afraid to throw yer weight on me. ’Taint far, an’ we’ll make it all right.”

Billy Kane, his object accomplished, leaned not lightly on Whitie Jack. Occasionally, as he walked along, he staggered and lurched, playing up his rôle—but only when the street in his immediate neighborhood was clear, and he ran no risk of attracting attention to himself and his companion!

It was not far, a few blocks; and then Whitie Jack, still unsuspectingly acting as guide, was helping Billy Kane down the half dozen steps of one of those cellar-like entrances to the basement of a low building in the middle of a block.

The building seemed to be a store of some kind, but it was closed, the dingy front window dark, and in the none too well lighted street Billy Kane could not make out exactly what it was. At the bottom of the steps they halted—before a locked door—and for an instant again that grim, desperate smile twisted Billy Kane’s lips. And then he laughed shortly, as his free hand fumbled in the pockets of the stolen coat.

“Kick it in, Whitie!” he growled. “I haven’t got the key. I lost my coat.”

“Nothin’ doin’!” said Whitie Jack complacently. “I got de goods, ain’t I? Wot d’youse think!”

From his pocket Whitie Jack produced a bunch of what were evidently skeleton keys; and, trying first one and then another, finally opened the door. His flashlight played through into the interior, and indicated a chair that stood before a table.

“Youse go over dere an’ sit down, an’ get yer coat an’ shirt off, an’ leave de rest to me,” he directed.

Billy Kane, lurching again, stumbled into the chair, as Whitie Jack, closing and locking the door, located an incandescent that hung from the ceiling, and switched on the light.

“Say, where do youse keep yer stuff?” demanded Whitie Jack. “A shirt’ll do—anything to tear up an’ make a bandage wid, see?”

Billy Kane did not answer. He did not know! Instead, he let his head sag limply forward, and fall on his crossed arms upon the table.

“Aw, buck up, Bundy!” pleaded Whitie Jack anxiously. “Youse’ll be all right in a minute. Dat’s de boy! Buck up! It’s all right! Leave it to me! I’ll find something!”

Still Billy Kane did not answer. His face hidden in his arms, he was making a surreptitious, but none the less critical, survey of his surroundings. It was a large room, evidently comprising the entire basement of the building; and the single incandescent that it boasted seemed only to enhance, with its meager light, the sort of forbidding sordidness, as it were, that pervaded the place. There were no windows. The walls had been boarded in with cheap lumber that had warped and bulged in spots, and the walls had been painted once—but so long ago that they had lost any distinctive color, and had faded into a murky, streaky yellow. The room was dirty and ill-kempt. A few old pieces of carpet were strewn about the floor, and for decoration prints from various magazines and Sunday supplements were tacked here and there around the walls. There was a bed in one corner; a wardrobe made by hanging a piece of old cretonne diagonally across another corner; a sink at one side of the room; and, at the far end, a bureau, whose looking-glass seemed to be abnormally large. Billy Kane studied the looking-glass for a moment curiously. It seemed to reflect back some object that he could not quite identify, something that glittered a little in the light. And then Billy Kane smiled a sort of grim appreciation. Whitie Jack had left his keys hanging in the lock of the door—the mirror held in faithful focus the only entrance to the place that the Rat’s lair apparently possessed!

And now the reflection of the door in the mirror was blotted out, and the figure of Whitie Jack took its place. The man had crossed the room from an apparently abortive search behind the cretonne hanging, and was rummaging now in the drawers of the bureau. And then, with a grunt of satisfaction, and with what looked like a shirt and some underclothing flung over his arm, Whitie Jack made his way to the sink, filled a basin with water, and returned to the table.

Billy Kane raised his head heavily—and with well-simulated painful effort aided in the removal of his coat, vest and shirt.

“Dat’s de stuff, Bundy!” said Whitie Jack approvingly.

It was a flesh wound, angry and nasty enough in appearance when the clotted blood was washed away, but still only a flesh wound. Whitie Jack surveyed it judicially.

“’Tain’t so worse, Bundy!” he announced reassuringly. “Youse’ll be all to de good in a day or so.” He began to rip and tear the underclothing into strips. “Youse’ll need de shirt to wear, an’ dis stuff’ll do for de bandages,” he explained. “See?”

“Yes,” said Billy Kane.

The man dressed the wound with amazing deftness, stepped back to observe his own work admiringly, and then, picking up the folded shirt, shook it out, and began to unbutton it.

“Now den, Bundy,” he said, “get dis on, an’——” He stopped. From where it had been hidden in the folds of the shirt, a little black object dropped to the floor. Whitie Jack stooped, picked it up, glanced at it, and tossed it on the table. “An’ dat ain’t so dusty a place to hide it, neither!” grinned Whitie Jack. “Now den, up wid yer arms, an’ on wid de shirt.”

Billy Kane made no comment. The object Whitie Jack had picked up was a black mask. He raised his arms, and with deliberate difficulty struggled into the shirt.

“How d’youse feel now?” inquired Whitie Jack.

“Better,” said Billy Kane. “You’re an artist with the swab rags, Whitie.”

“Sure!” said Whitie Jack. “Well, I guess dat’s all. Youse go to bed now, an’ keep quiet. I’ll tip de fleet off dat youse are back on de job.”

Billy Kane shook his head sharply.

“I don’t want anybody butting in around here to-night!” he said roughly.

“No, sure, youse don’t!” agreed Whitie Jack, with an oath for emphasis. “Don’t youse worry, I’ll wise ’em up to dat. Dere won’t be nobody around here till youse says so—youse know dat, don’t youse? I ain’t never heard of any guy huntin’ trouble wid de Rat yet—an’ I guess dat ain’t no con steer!”

Billy Kane was standing up now. It seemed strange, almost incredibly strange that this man, one who evidently knew the so-called Rat intimately and well, had accepted him, Billy Kane, without the slightest suspicion that there could exist any question regarding his identity. He had been watching and on his guard all the time that Whitie Jack had been dressing his wound, but though Whitie Jack had seen him under the full glare of a flashlight, and again in this lighted room here, their heads close together as the other had bent over him, Whitie Jack was obviously possessed of no doubts that he, Billy Kane, was anyone other than the Rat! Well, it might be strange, but at least it was undeniably true; so true that now that vista, which he had glimpsed with Whitie Jack’s first words of mistaken recognition, was spreading out again before him, but more concretely now, opening a staggering possibility; so true that he dared not jeopardize anything by appearing too inquisitive about Marco’s, for instance—much as Marco’s was still in his mind! Marco’s! No, he was not through with Marco’s, for more reasons than one. There was some queer deviltry that Laverto was hatching there—at a quarter to eleven—and he meant to see it through. But, after all, even if he broached the subject again to Whitie Jack, who was patently only a tool in the affair, what more could Whitie Jack tell him, except the name of the man who had hired him to blow open an old safe whose contents were worthless—and that man’s name he, Billy Kane, already knew. No, he was not through with Marco’s! But he would gain nothing, save perhaps to excite suspicion, by speaking of it again to Whitie Jack.

“Youse get to bed, an’ get some sleep!” prompted Whitie Jack. “Youse can leave de mob to me.”

“Thanks, Whitie,” said Billy Kane. He moved across the room, and flung himself down on the bed. “I’m not going to forget this. You’ve handed me the glad paw to-night—and I’m not going to forget it.”

“Aw, dat’s all right!” said Whitie Jack earnestly. “I knows youse ain’t! An’, say, youse can take it from me on de level dat I’d rather have had dis chance dan have a thousand long green bucks in me mitt dis minute. Say, I knows it, don’t I, dat de Rat never forgets; an’ I knows dere’s about a million guys around here dat would give deir eye teeth for de chance dat came my way to-night!”

It was strange again—but the servility in the man’s tones that was coupled with elation was genuine beyond doubt. The Rat was unquestionably a character of prominence and power in the sordid realm wherein he appeared, by some at least, by this Whitie Jack for example, to be held in awe. That being so, it was obviously the Rat’s prerogative to command—Whitie Jack.

“All right, Whitie—that goes!” said Billy Kane tersely. “And now, beat it! But before you go leave me your gun. I got cleaned out when I lost my coat, and if anything comes of that little game of mine to-night I might need your iron. Yes, and leave those keys, too—I’ve no other way to lock the door.”

“Sure!” said Whitie Jack promptly. He took his revolver from his pocket, laid it on the table, and walked to the door. “Are youse sure dere’s nothin’ else youse wants, Bundy?”

“No, that’s all,” said Billy Kane.

“Well den, so long, Bundy!” said Whitie Jack. “I’ll see youse in de mornin’!”

“So long, Whitie!” said Billy Kane.
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