Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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He's a thief, pickpocket, rogue—but he never steals for profit. He steals for love—he has a passion for gems. He's smiling, debonair—but deadly poison to his enemies. He's written books on rare gems—and stolen half of the stones he describes. He's the man with the brogue and the monocle, the most fascinating rascal of them all&—Riley Dillon—the gentleman collector of other men's jewels.
RILEY DILLON reached New York at six-forty p.m. At seven-five he had registered at the Waldorf and secured a room to suit his rather exacting taste. At seven-thirty occurred the first of the singular incidents in the case of the scarab necklace.
Purely from self-preservation, Riley Dillon was accustomed to note and take advantage of trifles. After a rapid but fastidious change of clothes, he was putting away his things when he heard the telephone in the adjoining room ring faintly but persistently. It was obvious that the next room was occupied, but was momentarily empty. Or so it seemed.
Dillon turned to the mirror. His evening attire was impeccable. About his neck was a black silk cord from which depended a monocle in a gold rim. He surveyed himself with critical satisfaction and turned to his room door. A glance at his wrist-watch showed it to be exactly seven-thirty.
He threw open the door and stepped out into the hall. Then he halted at thought of his room key. He had left it inside.
At this instant a woman stepped from the adjoining room. The door clicked shut behind her. She glimpsed Riley Dillon, in his own doorway, and her face went white; a face whose sheer loveliness made his pulses leap. An evening gown, a wrap, a scarf over her head.
Suddenly she turned. To Dillon's utter amazement, she spoke to him in a perfectly casual manner, yet her voice was lifted rather loudly.
"Well why don't you come? Have you forgotten something?"
"The room key, of course." Dillon fumbled in a pocket. His wits were spurred by the frantic urge in her face. He heard a heavy tread somewhere in the hall. "I can't find the confounded thing. Didn't you take it from the bellboy?"
"No. You took it. You put it on the dresser." She was close to him now, a swift smile on her lips. The man was almost beside them. She must have seen him coming as he turned the angle of the corridor.
"Oh! You're right." Dillon's glance lowered to her hands. The fingers were twisting and untwisting beneath her wrap, at its edge. He could sense her frightful inner agitation. He threw open his own door. "Better come back until we locate the key," he added.
She stepped past him, into his room. The man in the corridor went on by their door, and paused before that of the adjoining room. Dillon saw him thrusting a key into the lock, with the air of aggressive ownership a man displays when opening his own door.
Then, stepping back into his room, Dillon slammed the door and regarded his visitor.
Her smile had died out. She stood listening, one hand lifted to her lips as though to check frantic words, perhaps a scream. What a lovely creature she was! A mere girl, blue of eyes, black- haired; a long delicate face, charming in every detail. Riley. Dillon's impulsive Irish heart went out to her. He dropped the monocle from his eye.
"It's quite all right, my dear," he said, with the warm, whimsical smile that was all his own. "He paid us no attention whatever—"
She was thrusting something away beneath her wrap. Her eyes dilated on him for one instant; then her lips quivered, and as she collapsed, Riley Dillon was barely in time to catch her. She had fainted.
Dillon did none of the usual foolish things that men do when a woman faints. He knew that such a swoon was nature's own corrective. Instead of fussing about her, he carefully let her down prone upon the floor. Then he straightened up.
"And now, begad, you're in for it!" he told himself. "This would be a hard thing for you to explain, me lad. Luckily, the chap next door seems to have missed nothing."
Turning to the rosewood humidor on his dresser, Riley Dillon extracted one of his special Havanas. He trimmed it and then, very carefully, lighted it. Few men know the art of lighting a cigar without overheating it and ruining its aroma. Quite ignoring the still figure on the floor, he finished lighting the cigar, then glanced at himself again in the mirror. He lifted the monocle and replaced it in his eye.
This glass, with its gold rim, made an imperceptible difference in his face. The warmth of his finely carven features was chilled. Their balance was removed. Behind that glass, Riley Dillon became an impervious sort of person, a challenging and almost arrogant man. It lent him a decided air of cold distinction. It was an excellent mask for his impulsive and friendly disposition.
THE girl lay there, breathing quietly, motionless, eyes closed. Riley Dillon glanced about the room, eyed his trunk, puffed at his cigar. He had not completely unpacked. In a secret compartment at the bottom of his trunk reposed some of the most priceless jewels in existence. Not things to be exhibited or sold, for most of them were stolen. Yet they could be loved by one who knew and appreciated them.
Riley Dillon never sold such things. He loved gems, not for their value, but for themselves. Few living men had his expert knowledge of them, his passion for them, even though this were an illicit passion. If he did not scruple as to their acquisition, he yet had his own code of ethics. Riley Dillon might be a thief, but he was a very gallant gentleman. And he never stole for gain. His life was bound up in jewels, as the lives of others are bound up in stocks or law or liquor. Gems formed his background, his reason for existence.
He listened. Still no noise, no sound of alarm, from the adjoining room. What had the girl stolen, in there? Something which those long, delicate fingers of hers, almost as slim and delicate as the fingers of Riley Dillon, had thrust away beneath her wrap. Color was coming into her face now.
Swiftly stooping, Dillon lifted her. She caught at his arm, her eyes opened.
"Oh!" Her voice was low, rich. "I—I almost fainted—"
"Almost. You're all right now," said Riley Dillon, and stepped back. His glass fell; he gave her a laughing look and bowed, telling his name. "You have quick wits. You did the one thing possible, my dear. For an instant, begad, you even fooled me!"
She looked at him, terror m her eyes; she seemed frozen.
"Will you do me the honor to look upon me as a friend?" he said quietly, and again gave her his name. In his voice, in his manner, was that touch of fine courtesy so instinct in him, a thing no woman could overlook. He went on speaking, more gravely now.
"Do not be afraid, I beg of you. Yes, I know that you were in that room; what of it? You were nearly caught; what of it? There are lies that sear, and lies that heal. There are thieves who scorn to steal, as I myself know. So put away your fears. If I can help you, if I can do you any service, pray consider me at your command. It would give me great happiness to aid you."
A shiver ran through the girl A sudden wave of passionate emotion shook her. She dropped into a chair, and burst into a storm of tears.
"I—I failed, failed!" came almost incoherent words. "They were hidden—"
She gave way to her emotion. Her face was lowered in her hands, her whole slender body was shaking. Riley Dillon picked up the cigar he had abandoned, and waited calmly until the access was passed and she was somewhat herself once more. Then he spoke in a quiet, conversational tone.
"You were trying to get something in that room, then?"
"Our jewels, yes—"
She checked herself abruptly, looked up at him in alarm. Riley Dillon examined his cigar attentively, seeming to pay little heed to her words; in reality he was wondering why she had failed, since she had certainly carried off something. He began to be curious. This girl was no hotel rat, no sneak-thief. She had quick wits in a pinch, but not the sang-froid to keep from fainting when the pinch was loosened.
"Jewels!" he repeated, and laughed a little as he gave her a quizzical glance. "Well, you've come to the right man, in that case."
She seemed to see him, to be aware of him, for the first time. For an instant her gaze dwelt on the harsh, incisive lines of his face, the wavy black hair above his gray eyes; it flitted to his hands. No rings on those slim, deft fingers. More than once had Riley Dillon's fingers saved his life; despite his strength, they were supple, carefully tended. They were instruments of precision more delicately adjusted than any instrument of science. She evidently appreciated them, as the right sort of woman would.
"So you failed," said Riley Dillon, and smiled at her. Color rose in her checks.
"Yes. It—it was the first time I ever tried such a thing. Oh, so much: depended on it! And it was not for myself, believe me!"
Dillon was startled by the agonized, entreaty of these simple words.
"Oh, that's quite true, madame," he said gently. "You shouldn't attempt such work. For you, the first time must be the last; you're not fitted for this business. But for me, it's different. That's why I place myself at your command. Faith, I'd love to help you!"
His matter-of-fact tones, his touch of warm impulse, widened her eyes.
"What?" she said. "You have guessed? You know something—"
"I know nothing," said Riley Dillon, "except this—that any service you ask of me will be performed gladly."
A smile touched her lips, her eager eyes shone like sunlight. She came to her feet, one hand extended. Riley Dillon felt an absurd impulse to bend his lips to it. As usual, he obeyed impulse. She laughed a little.
Then she drew back.
"No, no, it is impossible," she broke out. "You see, it is not my secret. I am Anna Karsenovna, I have not the right to tell you. No doubt you think I am a thief?"
"Such a thought would be impossible."
"Thank you. But an explanation—"
"I have asked for none."
"But you have asked to help me."
"Right." Dillon smiled. "You mentioned jewels. I know a little about such things. I am yours to command."
"Thank you, again. Then—I may telephone you soon. May I go now?"
Riley Dillon was a gentleman. He bowed, went to the door, and opened it. With a nod and a touch of her hand, she was gone. Dillon closed the door after her, and lifted his eyes to heaven.
"Oh, you beauty—you thief—you adorable girl!" He burst into a laugh.
"Faith, it's a raving maniac I am. Anna Karsenovna, eh? That means nothing to me. And did she work me for a fool, then?"
ON the face of it, he had caught a hotel-rat and she had neatly wangled him into letting her go; but Riley Dillon knew better. Not because she was a girl of exquisite beauty. Riley Dillon, like any other man, could make a fool of himself over a lovely woman; but never over a lovely face. This girl, beneath surface indications, rang true.
Impulsively, he sat down at the telephone and called the desk.
"Riley Dillon speaking. Will you kindly tell me who has the next room and is making so much noise there—oh, Baron Mithoff, eh? Nobility? No, I won't make any complaint. He may quiet down. Thanks."
He called another number, that of Philp.
Now, Philp was not only a detective of sorts whom Riley Dillon had known for a long time, but Philp knew everybody or could find out about everybody. He supposed Dillon to be a lawyer or retired professional man. Many other people supposed the same thing, with variations. Philp was dependable, close-mouthed, and uncurious about his clients, and upon this man Riley Dillon was to some extent basing his New York campaign.
"Hello, Philp. Riley Dillon speaking."
"Oh, hello, Mr. Dillon! You ain't in town?"
"Yes, for a while. And I need some fast action, Philp. I want a report on one Baron Mithoff, who's here at the Waldorf. And I want a report on a charming young lady by the name of Anna Karsenovna. Both within half an hour. I don't know her address."
"Holy smoke! You don't want much, Mr. Dillon," said Philp plaintively. "What do you think I am, one of these here magicians? What can you tell me about 'em?"
"Nothing, except that they're undoubtedly Russian."
"Well, that ain't so bad. I got a pretty good lead on all the Russians in town," said Philp. "All right. I'll give you a call."
Dillon hung up and rose. Then he stood motionless, his eyes flitting over the room. Some trifling detail impinged upon his consciousness. Automatically, he sought to find what it was, scarcely realizing what he did. She had been after jewels in that adjoining room. She had failed to get them. Yet she had been hastily concealing something beneath her wrap. The contradiction—
Suddenly he was alert, as his gaze picked up a tiny object on the floor. Instantly all else was swept out of his brain. He took a step forward, stooped, He took it over to the desk lamp, held it in the light, and eyed it in some astonishment.
A scarab of lapis lazuli met his gaze.
The rounded side was carven like a beetle's back, the flat side was graven with hieroglyphics within an oval, most delicately done. Riley Dillon's sense of gems, his acquaintance with them, his literal feeling for them, aided him enormously here. Instantly, his deft fingers told him that this was no ordinary scarab; but why not? The value of a scarab lies not in its composition, but in the graven message it bears, and Dillon knew nothing of things Egyptian.
Yet it must be investigated. Here in his hand, perhaps, lay the clue to the whole riddle of that charming girl.
GOING to his trunk, Dillon rummaged there swiftly. He invariably carried with him all the adjuncts of his chosen profession, and very curious indeed were some of them. He knew gems, not from theory, but from practical work. He himself could imitate a given jewel with all the cunning artistry of a Cellini. In this case, however, he needed a book.
He secured it, among a mass of pamphlets and monographs. A small book dealing with scarabs and nothing else, written long years ago by the great Flinders-Petrie. He carried it over to the desk, opened it, ruffled the pages, glanced over the plates. Implanted in his mind's eye was the oval picture of the scarab before him.
His work was swift, but it was not easy. Hundreds of illustrations here which he must compare with that scarab. The great Houdini could slip out of handcuffs in an instant; behind that instant lay years of patient muscular development and deft trickery. So with Riley Dillon's brain. Once, indeed, he had been a pupil of Houdini. It was altogether nearly six minutes before he found what he sought.
A thrill of recognition pulsed through him. Yes, it was the same! And it was followed by a printed note of explanation
Royal scarab of King Khufu of the IV Dynasty, almost earliest known. Rare and unique lapis scarab bearing the king's name. Formerly in the Hermitage Museum, now in the "good luck" necklace assembled for Empress Alexandra.
The good luck necklace! "Heaven forgive me—it was here in this room and I let her walk out with it!" gasped Riley Dillon in sharp realization. "That's what she had under her cloak. And now she's gone. After stealing such a thing as that, she'd got away quickly. Telephone me, eh? She played me for a fool after all. Played me for a fool and made me like it, begad!"
His agitation was entirely pardonable.
And to think of such a thing happening on his first evening in New York, unexpectedly, a bolt from the blue!
Riley Dillon always took advantage of luck, but he did not depend on it. He had come to New York with a certain definite campaign in mind. He even had a list of certain lovely objects he intended to obtain from New York's benevolence. He had resolved to let nothing tempt him, for example, until he had acquired the Mogul's Heart, that lovely and historic old ruby now owned by Gregg, the great corporation lawyer. But this was different The Necklace of the Empress! The very name of it hurried his heartbeats.
This had not figured on his list. He did not even dream that it still existed, For it had vanished in the chaos of Russia. It had been made for the old Empress Alexandra from the finest and rarest scarabs to be obtained anywhere. Wrought by the greatest goldsmiths alive, it had been a glory of artistic conception.
The lapis scarab here on his desk had come from that very necklace. This scarab bearing the name of Khufu, commonly known as Cheops, the pyramid-builder, was no imitation. Further, as he inspected it under his jeweler's glass, he noted the four tiny indentations, at either side, at either end—the marks of golden prongs that held the stone.
Dillon had forgotten the man in the adjoining room. He had forgotten his plans for the evening. He sat there staring at the faded blue stone that had adorned the breast of a king thousands of years ago, a stone whose intrinsic value was nothing, whose historic and artistic value was boundless. The necklace had been here, here in this room, and he had let her walk out with it!
With a sigh, he stirred, folded up the hook and plates, dropped the scarab into his pocket. At this instant, his telephone rang sharply.
TO his real astonishment, Riley Dillon heard the girl's voice on the wire. He listened, then assented.
"Very well. I shall leave in five minutes."
Dillon laid down the telephone, frowning. Her voice was queerly agitated. She merely gave him the address, far downtown, and asked if he would come at once. The touch of mystery intrigued him, puzzled him, delighted him.
So she had not tricked him after all! He did not see how she could have failed in her errand, since she had got away with that necklace of a hundred marvels. Or were there jewels of more value in that adjoining room? Dillon carefully adjusted his tie, his muffler, donned his hat and coat. He picked up his green ebony stick, a plain, beautiful stick that was heavy as lead. Then he glanced at his watch.
Philp was invariably prompt in dealing with Riley Dillon, and but five minutes lacked of the half-hour. Best to wait, then.
From his humidor Dillon took one of his special Havanas, trimmed it, and then lit it with his accustomed care.
Presently the five minutes was up. The telephone rang.
"Philp speaking, Mr. Dillon. I've got a line on the bird you mentioned. Seems he's one of the old Russian nobility who's got a drag with the Soviet. He went back some months ago to locate jewels and hidden stuff for a bunch of refugees here. He double- crossed 'em and swiped the stuff. He just reached New York the other day, and, boy, if the Russians ain't burned up about it!"
"I see." murmured Dillon. "And the lady?"
"Wait a minute. I got that guy here; he knows everything there is to know about this Russian outfit. Hold the line."
There was a moment of muttering silence, then Philp's voice again. "Here y'are, chief. She's the daughter of some busted princess who lives down on Fifteenth Street. Got a couple of brothers; they're snowbirds or cripples or something. I don't get it good. If you ask me, the outfit is lousy."
Dillon's gray eyes gleamed with satisfaction. Fifteenth Street! Right. This checked with the girl's story.
"Good work, Philp. Can you hold your source of information there for a while?"
"I can if he smells a five-spot, you bet."
"Make it ten. Hang on to him until you hear from me again. I'll call you later, and there's just a chance I may need information on the spot."
"I get you," said Philp. "But this ain't the office, see? The wife's got a bridge game on and this bird sets and looks like misery on a monument. All right."
Dillon rose. He adjusted the cord of his monocle — that gold-rimmed monocle which was so important in his scheme of things—cast a final glance in the mirror, and departed.
As the taxicab swept him downtown, Dillon eyed the streets hungrily, joyously; it was good to be back here again. Things awaited him here. He knew the city intimately. At length they swung off the Avenue, and his anticipation of what lay ahead was correct. The old portion of Fifteenth Street, dingy lodging houses stretching away in dreary prospect. The cab halted. Dillon instructed the driver to wait for him.
The third floor, she had said. The halls were dimly lighted, ill-smelling, unkempt. Had that flower come from such a place as this? On the third floor, he knocked at the door to the right. The girl herself, Anna Karsenovna, opened the door. He fancied relief in her face as she admitted him, greeted him, invited him to enter.
The bare room was eloquent of poverty. Another room lay beyond, where sat a woman; an older woman, aged rather by suffering and care than by years. Her features were those of the girl, but harsher. Pride had stamped them, and hard experience. Her eyes, also of blue, were cold and distant. Obviously, this was the mother.
"My mother," said the girl in French, "I desire to present M. Dillon, the gentleman who helped me."
The older woman eyed Dillon in cruel appraisal: still seated, she extended her hand. He bent above her wasted fingers, then looked down into her eyes and smiled slightly.
"Madame," he said, also in French, "the greatness of my privilege in meeting your daughter is only exceeded by that of the honor now done me."
Her thin features warmed, her old blue eyes sparkled suddenly. He had judged her aright. This stilted courtesy, these formal phrases, were what mattered most to her amid this bare poverty and dingy environment.
"You do not know my name, monsieur?" she asked in a dry voice. Dillon shrugged.
"Now that I know you, your name is unimportant."
He looked at the girl and nodded. "You told me your name. What does it matter? Names, titles—these are nothing; Only, people are real."
"Yes," said the girl bitterly, "The titles are gone long ago. Well, I have told my mother what happened at the hotel. She has decided to accept your offer of assistance, for she, after all, is the one to decide. There has been opposition. Even now—well, you must speak with her. She is the one."
What did she mean by opposition? There was still an air of mystery, about all this affair. Riley Dillon could guess that he was dealing with Russian emigrés, no doubt people of high rank in the old, dead days. He turned and bowed slightly to the older woman. "It you accept my offer, madame, I shall be honored."
SHE scrutinized him in silence, then motioned to a chair.
"Sit down, if you please. I shall tell you what lies behind this matter. Like other Russians, we left our treasures concealed and escaped with very little, at the time of the Revolution. Lately, the restrictions in Russia have been somewhat lessened. One Baron Mithoff, whom we supposed could be trusted, was able to enter and leave Russia safely, He undertook to retrieve certain things for us and for other people who were in our condition.
"Our chief treasures there were pearls of great value, wonderful pearls such as one seldom sees. Hidden with them was this necklace, of slight intrinsic worth, but nonetheless a thing which we valued highly."
Dillon's pulses leaped, as the woman moved her left, hand. Beneath it, lying in her lap, was a glitter of gold and color. For one instant, he glimpsed the Necklace of the Empress; it could be nothing else. Then she covered it from sight again.
"Baron Mithoff went to Russia, to get our treasures, and those of others. That was the end of it. What he found, he kept. In England, in France, he has sold the jewels of those who trusted him. He was involved with women; he squandered the money. He made report to us and to the others that he could not get the jewels, or that he found them gone. Well, he lied. Those he did not sell abroad; he kept. He kept our pearls, for in this country pearls fetch much better prices than abroad.
"Two days ago, he reached New York to sell our pearls. We know about him; we are helpless, we and the others. We could prove nothing. We trusted his honor, and he has none. My daughter, undertook to enter his room at the hotel. A Russian of our acquaintance works there and obtained a key that would serve. My daughter was the only one of us who could do this thing; the others wanted to kill the man. She went. You know the result!"
Dillon gave the girl an admiring glance. He began to understand.
"Good Lord!" he breathed. "What if you had-been caught?"
"Thanks to you, I was not," she replied calmly. "I obtained that necklace; it is proof that he has the pearls, since they were all hidden together, in Russia. But I could, find no pearls. He has them too well concealed."
Dillon reached in his waistcoat pocket, took out the scarab of King Khufu, and laid it in the girl's hand.
"Take it, my dear, take it," he said, not without a sigh of resignation. "It's no good to me without the rest of the necklace. You dropped this scarab in my room."
"Oh! Then you did know all the time!" she exclaimed, amazed.
"No. I know that this came from the Necklace of the Empress, as it's called. A glorious thing, one that I covet with all my heart!" He smiled whimsically. "If I'd known you had it, there in my room—well, well, let it pass. Your mother is curious to know what we're saying, my dear. You'd better tell her."
The girl did so. When she had finished, Dillon turned to the older woman.
"Madame, I'll be off, with your permission. Shall I bring the pearls here?"
She frowned at him. "You think so lightly of the matter?" she asked icily.
"Faith, I don't think of it at all," he said, with his gay smile. "You may expect me anytime before midnight; perhaps later. Will you kindly describe the pearls?"
She did so, and his brows lifted in surprise. Well worth- while, indeed! They should be worth a fortune, if undamaged. A few more questions. He gathered that these refugees, most of them barely able to keep alive, knew of Baron Mithoff's movements but were unable to proceed against him. After all, it had been a question of honor, not of legal matters.
"One moment." As Dillon was about to depart, the girl halted him. Her mother had said a low, quick word, no doubt in Russian. "She wishes me to ask you about the reward, in case you succeed in getting the pearls. Rather, I should say, your share—"
Riley Dillon took out his gold-rimmed monocle and screwed it into his eye. He looked at the older woman for a moment in silence, stared at her, met the angry glitter of her blue eyes. Then he let the glass fall, and turned to the girl with his quick, warm smile.
"Tell her," he said, "that she is no longer dealing with Baron Mithoff, but with a gentleman. Good night, my dear; rather, au revoir! You may expect me later."
So he departed, jauntily, but as he descended the ill-lighted stairs he grimaced. He had let impulse run away with him, and it might be to his sorrow. He had not the slightest notion how to get those pearls from Mithoff. He felt sorry for the girl. Russians, eh? Poor devils, all of them, struggling, against fate. Yes; with that old autocrat of a woman ruling her life, he pitied the girl.
He gained the second floor, then was aware of a man approaching him, a man who limped heavily and peered at him from a broad, flat face.
"Mr. Dillon?" said the man. Riley Dillon halted.
"Would you step aside with me for a moment?" The other motioned to an open door near the stairs. "It is about Baron Mithoff; we must speak privately."
Curious, Dillon nodded assent. The half open door showed a lighted room. He was surprised, but he suspected nothing. He strode in through the doorway, then came to a halt as a pistol was jammed into his ribs. Another man had appeared from behind the door.
"Your hands—up!" snarled a voice at his ear. "Quickly!"
Riley Dillon obeyed. He could not very well do anything else.
DILLON was somewhat astonished that he was not robbed. He was frisked, but upon finding no weapons he was ordered to sit down. He dropped into a heavy oak armchair and regarded his two captors, who were conferring together, low- voiced.
The man who limped was dark, sallow, emaciated; but a certain fire blazed in his eyes. Like many cripples, nature evidently made up to him in intelligence for his bodily infirmity. The second man was older, and his face was scarred quite badly.
"Well?" demanded Riley Dillon pleasantly. He was inclined to be amused; at the same time, he decided that he -did not like Russians—any of them. "May I ask what you propose to do, now that you have me here? If you wish money—"
"No, no. We do not want to hurt you," the cripple broke in. He had taken the automatic pistol from the other man. "That stick—put it down! Drop, it, do you hear?"
Dillon let fall his green ebony stick. It thumped on the floor and rolled away.
"You will let my brother tie your wrists," went on the cripple calmly. "I'll give you a hypodermic of morphia, merely to keep you out of trouble. Later, we shall release you."
Dillon chuckled, but his amusement died quickly. He perceived that he was dealing with two very earnest, even desperate, men. Their eyes dwelt upon him with a disturbing intensity.
"Indeed!" he observed. "I have serious objections to being given a shot of morphia, of anything, in fact. What are your reasons for this absurd situation?"
The big man regarded him calmly, without interest. The cripple blazed up.
"You fool! You're not going to visit Mithoff, that's all. Well do that ourselves. Michael and I mean to give that rat his deserts. You get the pearls, indeed! Nonsense. We'll get the pearls and pay him out to boot."
"Eh?" At this, Dillon was genuinely astonished. "How the devil do you know about the pearls?"
"Our mother lays down the law, but we do not always obey," said the cripple.
Our mother! "Look here, is Anna Karsenovna your sister?" Dillon exclaimed.
"She is," was the curt reply.
The girl had spoken of opposition. It broke upon Dillon abruptly; he saw everything in a Hash. These men were her brothers. They had opposed bringing him into the business at all. They wanted to kill Mithoff as much as they wanted the pearls. The older woman, more cautious, shrewder, wanted only to get back her property. But these two unbalanced fellows were out for blood. He remembered now. Philp had warned him about these brothers.
Alarm shot through Riley Dillon. The intensity of those burning eyes—no, there was nothing absurd about this affair. These men were horribly earnest. This cripple was by far the more dangerous; he seemed driven by a wild frenzy. The other man, Michael, was a placid ox. And to think of the girl having such men for brothers!
"Look here," Dillon began, "you're making a mistake. You wouldn't dare to shoot me in any case—"
The cripple jerked up his pistol. "You think so? You have come into this thing to rob us. You rascal! You think you can get the pearls and then decamp. You have fooled Anna, you have fooled our mother; but you are dealing with men. Any more talk, and I'll have Michael hit you over the head. Keep your mouth shut."
As he spoke, he drew closer. Riley Dillon's brain moved fast; on the instant he threw overboard every preconceived idea. Those eyes, burning into his, spoke of a frenetic lust for blood. The cripple was hovering on the borderline of the insane.
If he let this wild scheme go through, Mithoff would die, and the pearls would probably be lost; ruin would engulf all these wretched people, the girl included.
DILLON met the blazing eyes and leaned back in his chair. He disregarded the threat to kill him if he spoke.
"You forget the letter from Mithoff," he said calmly.
"What?" The cripple scowled down at him. "What letter are you talking about?"
"The one Anna took from his room, about the pearls. I have it here."
A flash of interest darted across the cripple's face.
"Where is it? Give it to me."
"No." Riley Dillon smiled. He crossed one leg over the other, pulled up his trousers, reached into his pocket for his cigarette case. So perfect was his assumption of a casual air that it held the scowling cripple spellbound. Dillon opened the case, took out a cigarette, put it between his lips.
"Let's be sensible," he went on with perfect composure. "This is a question of a large sum of money, my friend. Since you are Anna's brother, very well; you may as well learn the whole thing. But send that fellow Michael out of the room. His stare gets on my nerves. Then I'll turn over the letter to you."
He produced a pad of matches, struck one, and held it to his cigarette.
A glimmer of sanity came into the hot, burning eyes of the cripple. He could not but be powerfully impressed by the perfect calmness of the man who sat before him. He drew back a pace, then another. Then, without taking his eyes from Dillon, he snapped out something in Russian.
Without protest, without surprise, the scarred Michael turned and left the room. That he was completely under the dominance of this crippled brother was obvious.
"Well?" The dark eyes flamed down at Dillon. "The letter! Where is it?"
Riley Dillon knocked the ash from his cigarette and pointed to the walking-stick on the floor. With such a person, he scarcely needed to be plausible.
"There, in the stick," he said calmly. "It comes apart."
The cripple moved back, glanced briefly at the stick of green ebony, then his gaze shot back at Dillon. He felt for the stick with his foot, then stooped and groped for it. Riley Dillon paid him no heed, but glanced about, saw an ash-tray on the table, and leaned forward; he carefully pressed out the glowing end of his cigarette.
In what he meant to do, he was taking a frightful chance, and knew it well. If his palms were sweating; he gave no indication of it, however. He looked up and saw the cripple fumbling with the heavy stick whose plain crook so evidently hid nothing.
"A lie!" broke out the Russian angrily. "What do you mean by it?"
Riley Dillon laughed lightly.
"My friend, you don't know the secret," he rejoined with amusement. "You don't know where to find the spring. Here, give it to me. I'll show you how it's worked."
He leaned forward and extended his hand. The cripple passed over the stick, then followed it, coming close, watching closely. His pistol covered the prisoner.
"Be careful!" he warned Dillon. "If you try to get out of that chair, I'll kill you!"
Dillon glanced up at him with a friendly, whimsical laugh, a lift of the brows.
"Nonsense!" he returned cheerfully. "We can't be very good friends if you talk that way. Remember, Mithoff expects to sell the pearls tonight or tomorrow. Now watch. One hand here, under the crook of the stick. The other hand grasps the stick farther down. Then a twist, to the left—"
That mention of the pearls being sold was the crucial thing. It jolted the cripple's mind off the business in hand for a scant instant. Dillon wrenched at the stick. He wrenched again—and this time the ebony, crook flew upward with the thrust of his arm behind it.
The crook of the heavy stick took the cripple squarely under the jaw, snapped back his head, left him stunned and dazed. The pistol jerked up spasmodically with his arm. Dillon tore it from his grasp, unfired. Then, swiftly, as one ends the agony of a stricken reptile, Dillon was on his feet and lashing out with the green ebony stick. It struck the Russian across the skull. He toppled forward. His head drove into Dillon's stomach and knocked the wind out of him. The pistol clattered to the floor.
Senseless, the cripple had all but knocked out his antagonist. Dillon lowered the limp figure to the floor, then straightened up in agony. Momentarily, he was helpless, gasping. And, at this instant of all others, the door swung open. Michael stepped into the room.
THE man was holding a hypodermic syringe, which he had evidently been preparing. He took in the situation at a glance. Unhurried, without apparent emotion, he laid the syringe on the table and then flung himself at Dillon with flailing fists. And Riley Dillon could not move. It was all so swift, all so desperately rapid, that he was just gasping the first air into his collapsed lungs, when the Russian barged into him.
A blow thudded home, knocked him back against the wall. Then Michael caught him in both hands and shook him. Dillon wakened. He still held the ebony stick. That scarred and savage face was close to his, hot breath panting into his eyes; hand clenched about the crook of the stick, he brought it up, brought it up again. Two cruel blows that rocked back Michael's head, loosened his grip. Then Dillon's left sank into his midriff.
Michael gasped. His arms fell. Dillon's fist landed again in the same place. Free of the man's grip, Riley Dillon pivoted; dropped the stick, brought up his right. Michael collapsed. He was not knocked out; he lay on the floor, moving spasmodically.
Dillon whipped off his muffler, threw himself on the man, drew the two wrists together and knotted the silken folds about them He rose and went to the table. He examined: the syringe. Yes, it was full, and the needle was in place.
Returning to where Michael lay, he bared the man's arm, plunged-in the needle, pressed down the ring; the syringe was empty. Dazed, half senseless, the Russian lay mumbling something, but had ceased to fight.
Riley Dillon came to his feet. Panting, hurt, he stood for a moment collecting himself. He had nearly bungled the whole business, through letting himself be rammed by that falling cripple. He looked around the room. There was another room beyond, with two beds in sight. Probably the two brothers lived here. Each room had doors on the hall.
Stepping into the other room, Dillon found towels, and returned. Yes, Michael had stepped into the hall, then had gone into the adjoining room and prepared the syringe. After a moment Dillon had wrenched the towels apart. With the strips, he bound the senseless cripple and improvised a gag that was fairly efficient. This done, he looked at Michael. The latter had closed his eyes and lay breathing heavily, regularly.
"Fast-working stuff, begad!" murmured Riley Dillon. "Unless he's pretending—"
He stooped over the man, lifted an eyelid. No pretense here. Michael was safe to stay for a while:—a long while.
Releasing the man's wrists, Riley Dillon tucked the silken scarf about his neck again, picked up the green ebony stick, and walked out of the place.
His taxicab was still waiting in the street. When he glanced at his watch, it was with a start of surprise. So little time had elapsed! Then he smiled grimly.
"Back to the Waldorf," he said, and got into the cab.
He relaxed gratefully on the cushions. It had been a near thing; he shivered a little at the memory of that cripple's burning eyes. So the two brothers thought that he meant to double-cross them all, eh? Well, that was not surprising.
He thought of the Necklace of the Empress, and sighed regretfully. It was a mere lingering glitter in his memory; he had not even been given a good look at it. Well, for the sake of that girl, he would play out the game. Her lovely face haunted him. Yes, play it out, and then be rid of the whole pack, girl and all.
He produced his leather cigar-case. Michael's fists had smashed the cigars. With a subdued oath, Riley Dillon lit a cigarette instead. He turned his thoughts to Mithoff. How was he to reach the fellow? By the least expected way, of course. Audacity always pays.
And since Mithoff had been only a few days in the country, he would know little about the ways of such hotels as the Waldorf. Yes, walk in upon him without warning. Why not?
Riley Dillon was smiling as he left his taxicab at the Park Avenue entrance. He had a cheery word for the elevator man, met a quick greeting from a bellboy in the car, the same who had taken him to his room. Already Riley Dillon was known here, liked, and his warm friendliness repaid. In a week's time he would be at home. His campaign would be opened by then—
Meantime, there was Mithoff. He left the car, flung a gay word or two at the floor clerk, passed on down the corridor. But not to his own door. He passed this, by, halted at the door of the adjoining room, and knocked sharply. There was no response.
Dillon hesitated, then turned and entered his own room. Here he caught up what seemed to be a large fountain pen. He unscrewed it, and dumped out on his writing desk a number of glittering metal segments, and a metal shank. Beside these he laid his room key, and swiftly selected the metal parts he desired. They fitted together and fitted into the shank; before him was a key which, with luck, would open any door in the place.
This little affair was Riley Dillon's own invention.
A glance into the hall, and he found it empty. Next instant he was at the adjoining door. His skeleton failed at the first try, then grudgingly shot the tumblers of the lock. Dillon flung open the door, stepped in, then stood staring as he swung to the door behind him.
A GRAY-HAIRED man in evening dress, the same who had passed him in the hall earlier in the evening, sat at the desk. He was tied in the chair there, fast bound and gagged, with a blood-stained towel wrapped about his eyes. The room was in great confusion. As the man's feet were a number of plush cases, which might have once contained jewels.
Riley Dillon whistled softly. Someone had been ahead of him; and ruthless about it, too. The feet of Mithoff were bare, streaked with smoke; they had been burned, no doubt to make him give up his loot. Not long ago, either. The incense-smell of Russian cigarettes hung heavily in the room. Dillon could appreciate the devilish audacity of it, in this hotel.
The man tied in the chair had heard Dillon's entry. He began to make inarticulate noises, and to struggle faintly.
Dillon went to him. He examined the towel that served as gag, then removed it. He calmly pressed the cold iron ferrule of his cane against the man's neck. The baron's head lolled dazedly; there was an ugly contusion on his forehead.
"Quiet, my dear baron," he said in French, for Mithoff undoubtedly spoke that tongue. "Shout if you like, and I shall be compelled to shoot you. Someone got here ahead of me, evidently. Who was it? Speak up! Who was it?"
The man in the chair worked his jaw, broke into stammering speech.
"Gregory Sonsdorff," he said hoarsely. "Who are you?"
"None of your business," was Dillon's cheerful reply, "Where does Gregory live?"
"God knows, I don't," groaned the wretched baron. "He has robbed me—"
"And apparently you deserved it. Very well. I advise you to be quiet for a while."
He left the room quickly, and returned at once to his own room. Here he disassembled the key, then went to the telephone and called Philp.
"Dillon again. Where can I find a fellow named Gregory Sonsdorff?"
"Hold the line, chief." Presently Philp spoke again. "This guy says he's a bad actor. The Russian crowd are down on him. He's another bird who's double-crossed the whole outfit. He's got a yap joint down in Greenwich Village called the Russian Eagle, a one-horse place."
"Thanks," said Dillon. "That's all for this time. Send me over the bill in the morning."
He rang off, rose, took one glance in the mirror, and departed briskly. Another five minutes, and a cab was rolling him back downtown.
Riley Dillon never carried a gun; at least, a loaded gun. He rather despised those who depended on cartridges when wits might serve. In the present instance, he was thoroughly well satisfied with the evening so far. He had unraveled a very tangled skein. he now knew exactly where he was going, and he had an excellent idea of the man he was going to see. Riley Dillon asked no more from destiny.
Leaving his taxicab in the Village, Dillon presently found his objective. This was one of the once-popular cellar restaurants, flaunting a double-headed Russian eagle for signboard, and by no means ill-looking inside. A few people were dining, and Dillon was accosted by a waitress in Russian costume.
"Has Mr. Sonsdorff returned?" he asked her blandly. "I was to meet him here."
"He came in some time ago, I think. Isn't he in the office?"
"Very likely, my dear—but where is the office?"
She laughed, led him to a curtained stairway, and held aside the curtain. With a nod, Dillon mounted the stairs, which led to some part of the house above.
A landing appeared, with a door on the right; it was closed. This, then, must be the office. Dillon paused, listened, heard nothing, and rapped.
After a moment, there was a step; not before a drawer had slammed shut. The door was opened. The man who opened it was tall, wide-shouldered, with a square, brutal head and bristly short hair.
"Good evening," said Dillon in French. "This is M. Sonsdorff, I think?"
"It is," snapped the other. "What do you want with me?"
"Possibly to save your life," Dillon rejoined pleasantly. "Do you know that you suffocated poor Mithoff with that gag?"
The bold dark eyes of the man dilated. A startled gasp broke from him. Riley Dillon pushed his way into the room. It was furnished with a desk and chairs, couch, a few flamboyant pictures, a threadbare carpet.
"Who are you?" demanded Sonsdorff, pulling himself together. Riley Dillon inspected him curionsly.
"What is that to you? Or do you prefer to be arrested for murder?"
"Bah! You are not of the police—you, in that costume!" snarled Sonsdorff suddenly. "What's this talk about Mithoff? Who is he?"
One glance had told Riley Dillon that the jewels were not in sight. Now he drew up a chair and seated himself, and put his stick across his knees, easily.
"Rather clever fellow, Sonsdorff. Those Karsenovna brothers are downstairs; they want to see you. You'd better go down and speak to them before Michael comes smashing his way up. I'll wait here till you bring them hack. We may settle things amicably."
A master stroke, using those names.
The burly, sullen features flashed alarm. Dillon's air of perfect ease, his mention of Mithoff and the gag, the very fact that he was a total stranger and yet knew so much, was staggering.
"They—you say they are downstairs?" broke out the man. "To see me?"
"Naturally. At the front door. Of course, if you prefer to deal with the police—"
Dillon shrugged and produced his cigarette case with a nonchalant air. Sonsdorff emitted one growling oath and then, turning, rushed from the room.
Swift as a flash, Dillon was out of his chair and at the desk. The top drawer. Locked, yes; but his gray eyes had been busy, and such desk locks were flimsy affairs. He seized a metal letter- opener from the desk, thrust it in, sprung the lock. The drawer came out to his pull.
Two handkerchiefs knotted together. Lumpy. He peered into one, then slipped each into a coat pocket. All done in perhaps twenty seconds from the time Sonsdorff turned and flung himself out. The drawer slid shut again. Riley Dillon picked up his stick and stepped out on the landing.
A shadow moved. Too late, he guessed the trap. A crushing blow took him between the shoulders. Another fell on the back of his head. He caught at the stair-rail, then slumped forward, and his limp body blocked the stairs.
SONSDORFF stood breathing heavily, poised, the slungshot in his hand. At his feet lay the silk-hat of Riley Dillon, crushed, but it did not occur to him that Riley Dillon might have worn such a hat with a definite reason. It is extremely difficult to get in a good smash on any head wearing a silk hat.
"So!" Sonsdorff slowly straightened in the dim light, his gaze on the motionless body just below. "There was nobody downstairs. It was a lie. But he knew—somehow! He knew. And that means—"
Deftly, like the gliding movement of a snake, the crook of the green ebony cane slid up and caught Sonsdorff about one ankle. A startled cry escaped him. He caught at the stair-rail as he went off balance. With a subdued crash, his weight came down. There was a soft thudding sound; then again.
Two minutes later, Riley Dillon pushed aside the curtain at the foot of the stairs and stepped into the restaurant.
He had no hat; but his hair concealed the bump on the back of his head, and if his back hurt like the very devil, none would guess it from his carefree manner. The waitress came up to him as he stood brushing his sleeve.
"Did you find Mr. Sonsdorff there?"
"Eh? Oh, yes, yes, thanks to you!" and with his charming smile, Dillon dropped a coin into her palm. "He doesn't want to be disturbed for a while. Good night."
He crossed the floor, swinging his stick, and so departed from the place. Once in the street, his shoulders sagged a little. He was badly shaken up; his head was swimming. He needed a drink, and needed it badly. And he must make sure of his loot.
Presently, in one of the stall-like booths of a Chinese restaurant, he relaxed, sipping hot rice-wine, and furtively studying the contents of one of those knotted handkerchiefs. Although they had been described to him, he was amazed at the sight of those pearls. He knew the deep-sea gems intimately. His monograph on pearls, written under an assumed name, was a standard textbook for dealers. The famous pearls of the world were registered in his brain; but seldom had he seen such strands as these. Not only were they perfect, but they were perfectly graduated; and matched pearls are the rarest of the rare. Dealers may wait years to match a necklace thus perfectly.
Riley Dillon touched the glittering globules tenderly, softly. Their value meant nothing to him. Ordinarily, such gems would have kindled a sparkling fire in his veins, but these did not. Queerly enough, they held no temptation for him. Their purity, their limpid loveliness, made him think of the girl whom he had met this evening. Like them, she was a perfect and beautiful thing, evolved from a sorry environment, from sickness of body and soul. A vast pity for her seized upon him. A wild vision came to him of rescuing her from that family, from all her past—then he came to his senses. She was content. She did not want to be rescued.
With, a laugh, he glanced over the other jewels. Numbers of them, and valuable, too, but under the circumstances no temptation reached him. He shrugged, paid, for his rice-wine, and departed, limping slightly. One knee had been banged in that fall.
He took a taxicab and went straight to the Fifteenth Street address.
Entering the lodging house, Dillon paused on the second floor and went to the room in which he had left the two brothers. They were still there, unchanged. The eyes of the bound and gagged cripple blazed up at him with virulent hatred. Riley Dillon laughed.
"Well, my friend, you were mistaken. Your brother will no doubt sleep for a while, but now I'll set you free. You shall see for yourself that I have no intention of stealing your precious bits of nacre."
He unfastened the strips of toweling. The cripple, amazed, said nothing, but let Dillon help him to his feet. Then he accompanied Dillon up the stairs to the floor above. The girl Anna opened the door, in astonishment at sight of the two men together.
DILLON found the older woman exactly as he had left her. He wondered if she had sat motionless all this while; He walked up to her, bowed, and silently extended the two knotted parcels.
"You'll find your property there, and the property of others as well," he said. "I trust you'll return it to the proper owners."
The pearls fell into the woman's lap. She trailed them through, her wasted fingers, Anna and the cripple watching. Then, she looked up at Dillon.
"Monsieur, I cannot permit you to depart with a mere word of thanks, yet I cannot insult you with mention of any reward."
Riley Dillon smiled into her eves.
"To be of service to you, madame, is its own reward. Good night."
As he turned away, her voice checked him imperiously.
She nodded to Anna. The latter came up to Dillon and put a box in his hand. Her eyes were shining like stars.
"We heard how you expressed yourself regarding this, monsieur," she said. "We shall all be happy to feel that it is in the hands of a friend."
Riley Dillon took the fingers of the girl in his, bowed above her hand. He took leave of the older woman with his grave courtesy. He looked at the cripple, who met his gaze but said nothing; and under those bitter eyes, Dillon took his leave.
Not until he was in the taxicab did he open the little box.
By the passing street lights he glimpsed the delicate, glittering thing of gold and ancient stones. In the box was the one loose scarab of King Khufu. Here in his hand was the Necklace of the Empress—his own.
"And to think, begad, that I came by it honestly!" Riley Dillon said. Back in his own room at the hotel, he examined the necklace minutely. At length, when he had put the one loose scarab into place, he laid the necklace aside. He stripped, and in the mirror regarded the bruise between his shoulders.
"A small price to pay," he observed complacently. "And I think, if I call the desk and say I've heard groans from the next room, that poor baron will be released. An excellent idea—" and with a laugh, he bowed to his window. "New York, you have treated me well. I like you!"
New York, it was true, had treated Riley Dillon well. And there was better to come. Or was there? Beyond him, in the glittering lights, hidden, guarded, luring him forward, was the ruby known as the Mogul's Heart. Men had died for it before. It might be his turn this time. Ah, well, the thrill of the chase, thought Riley Dillon, would be flat and stale, if Death did not lurk in the background. But that was to-morrow.
He smiled, picked up the phone.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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