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Novkey > Library > Paranormal > Doors of the Night

Doors of the Night

ChapterV—THE SECOND-HAND DEALER

Author: Frank L. Packard Total hits: 3660 User hits: 1 Date: 05-14-2014

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The door closed behind Whitie Jack, the man’s footsteps echoed back as he climbed to the street, echoed faintly again from the pavement, and then died away.

Billy Kane got up from the bed, went to the door, locked it, and then walked down the length of the room—and standing in front of the mirror stared into the glass in a grimly impersonal way. It was himself—Billy Kane. His face was in no whit changed, except perhaps that there was a slight pallor there due to loss of blood, and that the lines were sharper and harder, as though he were, as indeed he was, under a tense and heavy strain; but, with his collarless shirt, his trousers covered with mud and dirt, his whole appearance had taken on an aspect that was at once sinister and forbidding.

He laughed shortly, and turning abruptly from the mirror, crossed the room again, and pushed aside the cretonne hanging. There were some clothes on the wall pegs here. He gathered them up, and took them nearer to the light for an inspection. They were old, somewhat greasy, and wholly disreputable. He laughed shortly again, as he changed into them. As the Rat, he might venture out, though he would do well to take care not to be recognized, since Whitie Jack would have spread the report that he was wounded and in bed; but he could at least go out without inviting instant pursuit as the “murderer” of David Ellsworth. He was safe now for the moment, safe until morning anyhow—and he could even use those hours, if he would, in an attempt to put as many miles as possible between himself and New York! His hands clenched, and into the pallor of his face the red came burning hot. But he wasn’t going to do that! That “staggering possibility” was clear before his mind’s eye now. He wasn’t going to do that; he was going, instead—to play the Rat—to play the cards that fate, if one believed in fate, had thrust into his hands—to take the chance, the one chance, if the Rat did not come back too soon, of clearing his own name, and of bringing to justice the hell-hounds, who had struck down that gentle gray-haired man who had been his friend. His hands clenched harder, until, as they had done once before that night, the nails bit into the palms. He, Billy Kane—the murderer of his father’s friend, the murderer of the man who had trusted him and loved him! It was getting him now with all its brutal and remorseless force! Broadcast over the country, by morning his name would have become the synonym of all that was vile and hideous, and Billy Kane would be known as one of the most revolting characters in the annals of crime—a foul and filthy thing who typified the dregs and lees of human degradation—a thing from whom the friends of old would turn in horror and in shame, and——

Slowly his hands unclenched. The surge of fury that had been almost ungovernable passed, and he knew again that cold, unnatural, deadly calm. If he lived, the guilty man, or men, would pay! If he were taking a chance now, a desperate chance, he was taking a chance that no man could do otherwise than take. It was the chance to live—for one might better otherwise be dead! A chance! He had picked up Whitie Jack’s revolver, and was twisting it in his fingers, and now he thrust it suddenly into his pocket. A chance! He was taking no chance, indeed, save with the stake that was already flung upon the table—his life. It was the one way! As the Rat, doubtless well known to the authorities, he could move under the very noses of the police at will without suspicion arising that he was Billy Kane; and as the Rat, if Whitie Jack was to be relied upon as a criterion, he would have the run of the underworld, and in the underworld were many secrets, and amongst those secrets was perhaps the one he sought—the clue to Jackson’s associates in the murder of David Ellsworth. He was not blinded to the difficulties of this picking up of the thread of another man’s life; nor blinded to what was perhaps the greatest difficulty of all, the necessity of being able to recognize those with whom he should be acquainted, but even that was not insurmountable. He could see a way, he believed, to accomplish even that.

But all this was for to-morrow—and the to-morrows after that! To-night he was going out again—to Marco’s. That was why he had changed his clothes just now. A graver thing, the thought of merging his identity with the Rat’s, had impinged, obtruded itself, as it were, upon his mind. But he had not forgotten Marco’s.

He picked up his discarded vest, transferred the package of banknotes and his watch to the pockets of the one he now wore, and as he did so, he looked at the time. Laverto had said a quarter to eleven. It was almost that now. Billy Kane’s eyes strayed over the table, and fell upon the black mask. The mask, too, went into his pocket. It might prove a most valuable discovery, that mask—under certain circumstances even the Rat’s identity was not lightly to be disclosed.

He collected the muddy garments he had taken off, and tucked them under the mattress on the bed. It was not likely that anyone would come here, much less attempt to enter, in his absence; but he was fully aware that now, and from now on, his life depended upon his caution in every detail. He extinguished the light, put on his hat, walked to the door, unlocked it—and stood for a moment hesitant. Was he a fool to take this added risk, when already his own back was against the wall, when already he was in desperate case himself? He shook his head in a sort of exasperated remonstrance with himself for even his momentary hesitation, then opening the door, he locked it behind him, and crept cautiously up the stairs to the street.

Whitie Jack had been only a tool used for the stage-setting of some deviltry that was to follow—at a quarter of eleven. That was obvious. He, Billy Kane, had intended that the police should be informed and should deal with Laverto, and that he in person should give evidence against Laverto; but he could no longer inform the police, no longer give evidence. He was wanted now himself for murder, and so upon him fell the moral obligation to prevent or render abortive, if he could, a crime that he knew was pending. And besides—his face hardened suddenly, as he moved swiftly along, evading the direct rays of the street lights, and keeping in the shadows—he had a personal account to settle with Antonio Laverto. If it had not been for the man’s damnable imposition having succeeded to the extent that it had, he, Billy Kane, would not have left the Ellsworth house to-night, and David Ellsworth would not now——

Billy Kane’s hand, in his pocket, tightened over the butt of Whitie Jack’s revolver. Unconsciously he quickened his stride.

Always hugging the shadows, his hat drawn far down over his face, giving the passers-by he met as wide a berth as possible, Billy Kane covered the short distance that separated the Rat’s den from Marco’s. He slipped into the lane unobserved, and for the second time that night crouched against the door with the broken lock. But now, mindful of the door’s tendency to squeak, he pushed it open cautiously an inch at a time. And then, with the door slightly open, he stood motionless, a puzzled and amazed expression on his face. Just exactly what he had expected to find here, he was not prepared to say—but certainly not this! A faint light came through from the door of the back room into the hallway, and from the room there came a woman’s voice that mingled a sort of pitiful defiance with a sob.

“It’s not true! I tell you it’s not true! The boy never did it!”

“So!” It was a man’s voice now, caustic and unrelenting. “Well, where is he now, then?”

“I don’t know,” the woman replied. “I haven’t seen him since supper. But that’s got nothing to do with it. That doesn’t prove anything.”

“So!” It was the man again. “Well, maybe not! But I am not to be fooled! I am a poor man. I cannot afford to lose my money. So, it has nothing to do with it, eh? You say that because you are his mother, eh? But did he tell you at supper that I had discharged him this afternoon? Eh? Answer me that!”

“N-no.” The answer seemed to come reluctantly.

Billy Kane pushed the outer door a little wider open and slipped through. Keeping close to the wall, he edged forward until he could see into the back room through its open door. A frown came and knitted his brows in hard furrows. He was frankly puzzled now. The woman, a tall, powerful, muscular woman of middle age, but curiously frail now in obvious fear and emotion, was Mrs. Clancy, who kept the little notion shop next door on the corner; and the other, bent-shouldered, in long, greasy black coat, with long, untrimmed and dirty white beard, whose eyes were distorted behind the heavy lenses of his steel-bowed spectacles, was Marco, the proprietor of the second-hand store. Marco was apparently in a state of equal distress and excitement. He alternatively wrung his hands together and gesticulated furiously.

“Eight hundred dollars!” he cried out wildly. “Do you hear, you, the mother of that brat? Eight hundred dollars! All I have on earth! And it is gone! Stolen by that cursed young prison bird of yours! So he did not tell you, eh, that I discharged him this afternoon because I was sure he was making little stealings from me all the time? But you are not surprised, eh? Maybe he has stolen from you, too, eh?”

The woman did not answer. She seemed to shiver suddenly, and then sank down heavily in the chair before the table, near which she had been standing.

Marco paced up and down the room, back and forth, from the table to where the floor was littered with the erstwhile contents of the rifled safe.

Billy Kane’s puzzled frown grew deeper. Evidently there had been money in the safe, but in some way Laverto had got it before he had set Whitie Jack at work upon a stall, and it was obvious that Laverto had maneuvered to plant the crime on the shoulders of this woman’s son. But what then had been Laverto’s object in bringing Whitie Jack into it at all? It did not somehow seem to fit, or dovetail, or appear logical, or—— And then, with a sudden start, Billy Kane leaned tensely forward, his eyes fixed narrowly on Marco. Yes, it did dovetail! He had it now—all of it—all of the damnable, unscrupulous ingenuity of the plot that had been hatched in Laverto’s cunning brain. The frown was hidden now by the mask which Billy Kane slipped quickly over his face, but his lips just showing beneath the edge of the mask were tight and hard.

“I was a fool—a fool!” Marco cried out sharply. “A fool, ever to have taken him in here as my clerk! I might have known! He has already been in jail!”

“It was only the reform school.” Mrs. Clancy was wringing her hands piteously. “He is only a boy—only seventeen now. And he did not mean any harm even then—and—and since then he has been a good boy.”

“Has he?” Marco flung out a clenched fist and shook it in the air. “He has—eh? Well, then, where did he get this? Answer me that! Where did he get this?” Marco’s closed hand opened, and he threw what looked to Billy Kane like a little brooch, a miniature in a cheap setting, upon the table. “That’s you, ain’t it? That’s his mother’s picture, ain’t it? Do you think I do not recognize it? That’s you twenty years ago—eh? Did you give it to him—eh? Answer me that—did you give it to him?”

The woman had risen from her chair, and was swaying upon her feet.

“Did you think I did not have reason to be pretty sure when I asked if he had not stolen from you, too?” Marco, apparently beside himself with rage, was gesticulating furiously again. “And you said I had no proof of this—eh?” He shook his fist in the direction of the safe. “Well, I found that brooch there on the floor where he must have dropped it out of his pocket when he blew my safe open, and he didn’t know he’d dropped it in the dark, and then some of the papers he pulled out covered it. That’s where I found it—under the papers! That’s proof enough, ain’t it? I guess with his record it will satisfy the police—no matter what his mother thinks!”

A great sob came from the woman. The tears were rolling down her cheeks.

“My boy!” she faltered. “It’s true—I—I am afraid it’s true. Oh, my boy—my boy—my fatherless boy!” She thrust out her hands in a sudden imploring gesture toward the other. “Listen! I will tell you all I know. I will show you that I am honest with you, and you will have mercy on us. To-night, after supper, I found that the little chamois bag in which I keep the few little things I have like that brooch, and the money I take in from the store during the day, was gone. Yes, I was afraid then. I was afraid. But he is all I have, and——”

“And my eight hundred dollars, that he came over here and stole afterwards, was all I had!” screamed Marco. “You tell me only what a blind man could see for himself! Did I not put two and two together myself? He has run away now—eh—with all he could get? That he stole from you does not give me back my money. But the police will find him! Ha, ha! The police will find him, and when they do they will remember the reform school and he will get ten years—yes, yes, ten years—for this!”

“Listen!” Mrs. Clancy’s voice choked. She brushed the tears from her cheeks with a trembling hand. “If—if I give you back the money, will you let him go?”

“Ha!” Marco stood stock still, staring at her. “What is that you say? You will give me back the money? You! Are you trying to make a fool of me?”

“No, no!” she cried. “I’ve got that much—it is my savings—it is in the bank. Listen! Oh, for God’s sake, be merciful! Give him a chance! You’ll get your money back, you won’t lose anything, and—and you would the other way, because—because before they caught him he would perhaps have spent a lot of it.”

“That is true!” said Marco, in a milder tone; and then, a hint of suspicion in his voice: “What bank is it in? The bank down the street?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“That is my bank, too,” said Marco. He stared at the woman for a moment speculatively, then his eyes circled the room, and he stared at the broken safe. “Will you pay for my safe?” he demanded abruptly.

“Yes,” she agreed eagerly.

“Fifty dollars,” said Marco. “It would be fifty dollars.”

“Yes—oh, thank God!” She was crying again.

“So!” Marco shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I will do it.” He walked back toward the safe, picked up a check book from amongst the debris on the floor, tore out a blank check, dropped the book on the floor again, and returned to the table. He pushed the slip of paper toward Mrs. Clancy, and pulled out a fountain pen from his pocket. “So! Well, make out a check for eight hundred and fifty dollars.” He shrugged his shoulders again.

It was slow work. Mrs. Clancy’s hand trembled, and she stopped at intervals to wipe her eyes. Billy Kane edged closer to the door. It was probably all she had, the savings of years from the little shop, but the fear and strain was gone from her face, and her lips were quivering in a smile, as she signed her name at last, and handed the check to Marco.

But now Billy Kane’s revolver was in his hand—and suddenly, as Marco held the check close to his eyes to peer at it through his thick lenses, Billy Kane stepped forward across the threshold. And then Billy Kane spoke.

“Drop that, Marco!” he said quietly.

There was a cry of terror from the woman, as she whirled around, white-faced, clutching at her breast; it was echoed by a frightened gasp from Marco, and as though the slip of paper in his fingers had suddenly turned to white hot iron, he snatched his hands back in a sort of grotesque jerk, and the check fluttered to the table.

Billy Kane stepped toward the man.

“You’ve made a mistake, Marco, haven’t you?” he inquired coolly. “Instead of this woman’s son being the robber, are you sure it isn’t—yourself?”

The man shrank back.

“What do you mean—myself?” he stammered hoarsely. And then, recovering a little of his self-control: “Who are you? And what are you butting in here for? What’s your game to say I did that?” He jerked his hand toward the safe. “You can’t bluff old Marco, whatever you’re up to! I was in Morgenfeldt’s café all evening until half past ten, and I can prove it; and ten minutes after that I was pulling her”—he jerked his hand toward Mrs. Clancy now—“out of her shop next door to show her what I had found here. She’ll tell you so, too! I couldn’t have come all the way from Morgenfeldt’s, and done all that, and blown that safe open in ten minutes, could I?”

Billy Kane’s smile was unpleasant.

“Don’t be in such a hurry to produce your alibi, Marco,” he said evenly. “It sounds suspicious—and it also accounts for a good deal. I think we’ll take a look through your pockets, Marco—not for the eight hundred”—Billy Kane’s smile had grown still more uninviting—“but on the chance that we may find something else. Put your hands up!”

The man hesitated.

Billy Kane’s revolver muzzle came to a level with the other’s eyes.

“Put them up!” he ordered curtly; and, as the man obeyed now, he felt deftly over the other’s clothing, located a revolver, whipped it out, and laid it on the table behind him. A moment later, also from the man’s pocket, he took a chamois bag, which, too, he placed upon the table.

Mrs. Clancy, with a startled cry, snatched at it.

“Mary, Mother of Mercy, what does this mean!” she gasped out. “It’s—it’s my bag!”

“It means that our friend Marco here is a very versatile rogue,” said Billy Kane grimly. “You may put your hands down now, Marco, and”—he was clipping off his words—“you won’t need that beard, or those glasses any more! Take them off!”

The man had gone a sudden grayish white. Mechanically he obeyed—and cowered back, his eyes in terror fixed on Billy Kane’s mask. It was Antonio Laverto.

With a scream of rage, Mrs. Clancy rushed at the man.

“You—you devil!” she shrilled. “You made me believe my boy was a thief—God forgive me for it! And—ah, let me at him! I’m only a woman, but——”

Billy Kane had stepped between them.

“Wait!” he said. “There’s a better way, Mrs. Clancy.” He swung on the Italian. “If it hadn’t been for your voice, Laverto—you see, I know you—you might have got away with it. I didn’t recognize you at first. You’re clever, damnably clever, I’ll give you credit for that, if it’s any satisfaction to you. You must be a busy man! Are there any more rôles in your repertoire? Well, no matter! The Italian crippled beggar, and Marco the second-hand clothing dealer are enough for now—and enough to put you where you belong!” His voice rasped suddenly. “You blotch on God’s earth!” he said between his teeth. “You knew Mrs. Clancy had a little money, and you knew that her son had a reform school record against him. And so, about two weeks ago, you rented this place next to hers that was then vacant, and you stocked it with a few old clothes, and you hired her son to act as clerk; and you hired him, not with an idea of doing any business, but as a necessary part of your plan to incriminate him in his mother’s eyes, and also to enable you, without arousing suspicion by appearing to neglect business here, to attend to other irons equally as despicable that you had in the fire at the same time—playing the flopper, for instance, up on Fifth Avenue. The whole outlay probably cost you but a few dollars—and in return you meant to get all of this woman’s life savings. I say all, because you probably found out how much she had, and if she had had much more than eight hundred dollars you would have set your fake loss higher. And to-night in some way—the details do not matter at this moment—you stole from her that chamois bag, both to impress her with the belief that the boy had stolen from her too, and also to secure spurious evidence to prove that he had been guilty of what you claimed had happened here.”

Billy Kane paused. His eyes had travelled to the wrecked safe—and sharp and quick had come the thought of Whitie Jack. He smiled grimly. He did not want Whitie Jack to appear in this. He owed Whitie Jack a good deal to-night—and the “Rat” never forgot! His eyes came back to Marco. The man was circling his lips with the tip of his tongue.

“You’re going up for this, Marco,” Billy Kane said in level tones. “But I’ll give you a friendly tip—for reasons of my own. Maybe you didn’t pull this safe-cracking game yourself, maybe your alibi stands on that count; but, if it does, you got some tool to pull it off for you just for that reason, and possibly also because you didn’t know how to handle the ‘soup’ yourself—and if it’s one of the boys it won’t help your case any to snitch on him, for you’re caught open and shut in this anyhow, and maybe, Laverto, some of his friends might remember it when you got out again! You get the idea, don’t you? Yes, I see you do! Well, then, there’s just one thing more. If this little game of yours had broken right for you, Mrs. Clancy’s son—to make it appear that he had run away—would have had to disappear for several days, until you could have pulled up stakes here without exciting suspicion, and have pretended to move away. Therefore, where is he now—Laverto?”

There were beads of sweat on the man’s forehead. His lips moved mumblingly.

“Where?” Billy Kane’s revolver edged viciously forward. “I didn’t hear you!”

“Wong Yen’s,” the man whispered.

Billy Kane’s jaws snapped together. He had heard of Wong Yen’s! It was one of the most infamous Chinese underground dives in the Bad Lands.

“Doped?” He bit off the word.

“Yes,” the man whispered again.

Billy Kane turned to Mrs. Clancy.

“He’s yours now, Mrs. Clancy. You know the story, and you know where to send them for your boy. I guess I can leave him to you. They say the female of the species is more deadly than the male! There’s his revolver. Do you think you could march him out of the front door, and hand him over to the first officer you see?”

There was a bitter, hard look on Mrs. Clancy’s face. Big and brawny, she towered over the cringing figure of the Italian—and the Italian shrank still farther away from her, as she snatched up the weapon.

“I can!” she said, and her short laugh was not a pleasant one. “And I can shoot if I have to, and, faith, there’d be joy in the doin’ of it; but you”—her voice broke suddenly—“I don’t know who you are, and I owe you——”

Billy Kane was backing toward the rear door.

“You’ll pay it all, and more, Mrs. Clancy, when you hand him over to the police,” he said quickly—and, stepping out into the passageway, he ran down its length, whipping the mask from his face as he went; and in another instant, from the lane, had gained the cross street.
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