THE sallowness of Martin, the valet, existed not only in the stained whites of his eyes but even in his yellow fingers, which were spare in flesh and grew larger toward the flat tips. The strength which his clothes concealed appeared in his naked hand, particularly as he gripped the big, streamlined automatic.
With a sort of flat-handed pass he made the heavy gun disappear in his clothes, produced it again through his back, apparently—and all the while watched carefully the face of Gains, the butler, who attempted to preserve a wooden indifference; but his eyes were alive in spite of himself and glinted with every flash of the weapon.
"When you're juggling," said Gains, "you ought to keep to things that don't have a mind of their own."
"I won't let this rod speak out of turn," answered Martin.
"Why you packing it, anyway?" asked Gains, breaking down into open curiosity at last.
Martin allowed the automatic to remain in hiding beneath his coat.
"The old girl ought to have an airing now and then; that's all," said Martin. "And tonight may be the night for her to appear in company."
The buzzer sounded on the pantry wall and the register indicated the library.
"J.J.'s gunna ask me is everything okay," said Gains, rising. "Funny how he gets nervous every time he throws a party, eh?"
"He spent too many years prospecting the Canadian back-country," said Martin. "New York will always be a pretty tight fit for him."
Gains found John James Leggett pacing on the library rug.
"Does everything come along in good shape?" asked Leggett.
"Everything is in order, sir," said Gains.
"Send me Cesare," commanded Leggett.
While he waited for the chef he walked up and down the room looking at the books. Their titles meant nothing to him but the bindings made a pleasant tapestry of color along his walls and gave the room a sort of mental furniture. In this moment of great stress, he was not thinking consciously of his problem but was dimly remembering the hours he had spent in the leather room of the Zaehnsdorf bindery in London, thumbing hard-grained Morocco, or the soft Levant, or sleek vellums, or the deep neck wrinkles of brown sealskin. He had said to Zaehnsdorf's manager: "I want a hundred and ten yards of books. Here's the plan of the room. I don't know a thing about books but I'd like some color on the walls."
That was when the penthouse was rising on top of the huge loft building. Mike Ravenna said it looked too much like part of an English abbey, hoisted halfway to heaven, but that was before the landscape gardener had clothed the penthouse with time. The booming drone of a steamship's whistle on the North River stopped Leggett in front of the mullioned window that filled the whole end of the room. A tremendous steamer was standing swiftly down the tide, making even the huge sky-scrapers seem like a city of toys. It angered Leggett a trifle whenever those monsters passed by, throwing his world out of scale; otherwise he liked the huge vibration of the whistles. He shut the passing of the great ship from his mind and looked down to his roof garden. Now that May put an end to the danger of frost, the gardeners made the whole formal design bloom with color inside the potted box-hedges. In the fountain the three bronze mermaids looked up with laughter at the spray which old Triton blew from his horn; descending, the water rained dazzling gold upon them, for the sun was turning red in the west.
The chef came in and held his tall hat at attention against his breast. The little starved man always seemed to be shrinking from a blow.
"Cesare, why don't you eat some of the stuff you cook?" asked Leggett. "Why do I have to have a skeleton behind every feast?... Now listen to me, Cesare."
"Everything must be perfect tonight. I want you to put your best touch in every dish; make music; make 'em sing. You hear?"
"Signore, everything shall be done con amore e passione."
Leggett went down to the dining room and eyed the massed flowers with pleasure. Afterward he went up to the Venetian bedroom where the girls would leave their wraps. It was not to his taste. There was not a single chair to which a big man could trust his weight; but the women always exclaimed about the damask curtains, the carved and gilded furniture, and the grotesquerie of the little dancing figures which made a frescoed cornice around the walls.
He liked better the bathroom with its sunken tub of pale green marble and the dressing-room with the stiff yellow skirts of the table repeated endlessly in the surrounding mirrors. His own image multiplied in the same manner and it was this sight of himself that drove him away suddenly. Remembering the old prospecting days, lean and hard, it was difficult to identify himself with the swollen body on the long legs, like a crane at a stand in good fishing waters. Like the bird, all the lines of his face dropped down to a long nose and a long, fleshy chin. It was a red face, moist and shining.
Gains called him away to the telephone. A man's voice clear and strong with youth said over the wire: "Mr. Leggett?... Hello, Uncle John! This is David."
"That's not David Ryder," said Leggett. "You're away off at sea on a steamer, David."
"There was a handy little dirigible going across and I shifted to another fellow's ticket," said David Ryder. "Can I see you? I'll be at the hotel...."
"You'll be here!" shouted Leggett. Something stopped his voice. He controlled himself. Then he added: "Come right out. Having a dinner tonight. Rush along so you'll have time to change."
He sent for Martin and said: "My nephew is arriving. I don't know when he'll leave. He takes the guest suite."
"Yes, sir. The suite?" repeated Martin.
"I said the suite. And until he gets a valet for himself, you'll more or less forget me to take charge of him. Though he may not have many clothes to take care of. Not to begin with," added Leggett.
"More or less forget you; yes, sir," said the valet.
Leggett grinned at him.
"You're a cruel, hard, cold sort of a devil, aren't you, Martin?" he asked.
"As you please, sir," said Martin, with none of the French sour going out of his face.
"When you take care of David Ryder, you damned thief,"'said Leggett, "you'll walk on eggs and break none of 'em!"
"Certainly, sir," said Martin.
"Wait a minute," commanded Leggett. "I want to say something."
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"What am I going to talk to you about now?"
"Something very intimate, sir."
"Why should I be intimate with you?"
"Because you could send me up the river for twenty years by lifting your finger, sir."
"You know, Martin, sometimes I think I ought to have nobody about me except ex-convicts."
"Besides me, you have Gains, sir," said Martin.
"What! Gains, too?"
"Well, I'll be damned," said Leggett.
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"You hired Gains for me yourself," said Leggett.
"I wanted to share my good fortune... with a friend, sir."
"You think you can trust Gains, eh?"
A very faint smile twisted the mouth of Martin.
"As long as I live, sir; yes."
Leggett regarded him for a moment with a sinister pleasure.
"Why do I enjoy you so much, Martin?" he asked.
"Because you like to own your people body and soul, sir," said Martin.
"That's good. That's damned good because it's true," said Leggett. "The point at hand, Martin, is that the arrival of my nephew unbalances my dinner table tonight. I have to have a sixth woman.... Is there anything in the world that I haven't talked to you about?"
Martin lifted his green eyes to the ceiling.
"No, sir. Nothing," he said.
Leggett laughed a little but kept watching the face of Martin with cautious attention to overlook no shades of meaning.
"How do I seem to you just now?" he asked.
"I think you find this is a very special day, sir."
"I expect it to be a special night," said Leggett. "You think that this fellow Daley really knows something?"
"I am sure of it, sir."
"About one of my guests of tonight?"
"I wonder which one it could be?" murmured Leggett. "Tell me the exact words that Daley used."
"He said: 'I'm bringing the dope in pictures and writing. What I bring is going to blow that party all to hell. After Mr. Leggett's had a chance to look over my stuff and check it, he can pay what he thinks it's worth.'"
"We'll find out what he has when the time comes. Let's get back to the last topic. Every one of the five women who are coming tonight has sold her soul to the devil; do you know that?"
"Certainly, sir," said Martin.
"You're a complacent sort of a scoundrel," said Leggett. "Do you even know their names?"
"The Countess Lalo, Miss Leslie Carton, Mrs. Eric Claussen..."
"How do you know all this?"
"You sent each of the ladies flowers, sir, and the florist confused the addresses and telephoned to straighten them out."
"I think I'll check that with the florist," said Leggett. "Shall I?"
"I hope not, sir," said Martin.
"Then you're a confounded eavesdropper, are you?"
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"Let it go for the moment. Pay attention to this: My nephew has been educated for twelve years by my money and now that he's through with the Sorbonne he ought to be in line for a good opening in international law."
"But he's not going to do international law. He deserves something better. For twelve years I've given him just enough money to keep body and soul together. I haven't even smiled on him. I haven't seen him five times in the twelve years. Results? Why, he's managed like a Spartan. He's had enough for tuition and bread and water, so to speak, but he's taken nothing but top marks and honors everywhere.... Now he's going to have his reward.... He's going to have his reward!"
"I know he's the true steel," said Leggett, "but I want to find out if a dash of wine and a pretty face will upset him. These sheltered students—you never can tell what the world will do to 'em, Martin."
"Certainly not, sir."
"So I want to ask you, of all the young women who have been guests here recently, which is the best? Understand? I want to sit her down at the table with those other five females and see if David Ryder has brains and instinct enough to pick her out of the lot. If he can do that I'll know better how far I can trust him in the world. Because there are going to be five temptations here tonight, Martin, that would snatch Saint Anthony out of his lion's skin. Now the point is—what girl do I know?"
Martin lifted his green eyes again to the ceiling.
"Well, say something. Make a choice," said Leggett.
"I am trying sir," said Martin.
"You impudent rat!" exclaimed Leggett. Then he added: "Wait a minute!... That young girl who's studying singing. That... what's her name?"
"Miss Eileen Durante is the young lady you mean, sir."
"Well, tell me: isn't she the pure quill? Even New York soot can't settle on her."
Martin studied the emptiness of space before he shifted his glance to Leggett and answered, solemnly: "I think you are right, sir."
Leggett smiled at his valet's doubt. I'll get her if I can," he said. "And here's the extraordinary oddity of it: If she'll come, there'll be six girls with golden hair at my table!"
He went to the telephone and got Michael Ravenna.
"Ah! It is John!" said the Italian. "You interrupt me at my collar button, John. I am too fat. I shall have to get a valet like the rich Mr. Leggett to squeeze me into my clothes."
"Mike, you know that girl who's studying singing. Eileen Durante. Can you get her to come here tonight? Not to sing. As a guest."
"Ah, but John! I know the other women who are coming. And Eileen is a little different."
"Damn the difference. I mean, the difference is what I want. Will you get her for me?"
"But she lives like a poor little nun in this city, John. Perhaps she won't want to come. She is nothing but work and starvation; and that poor, gentle, sweet. small voice that never will fill a concert hall!"
"Tell her that I want to help her," said Leggett. "Tell her that I want to see her again because I'm thinking of helping her. As a matter of fact, tonight she may pick up the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
"I'll get her," said Ravenna, "but what rainbow? What pot?"
"You'll see one day, perhaps.... Goodby."
For just then a servant came in to murmur: "Mr. David Ryder, sir."
He had shoulders capable of swinging an oar in a college crew and yet he was light enough to ride a middleweight hunter. He wore his gray flannels like an Englishman whose breeding is high enough to permit him to be careless. He had a large head and a face so thin in flesh that one could study the bones and the brain beneath it.
"Hurry now," said Leggett, shaking hands. "You've got barely time to change. Dinner jacket in those bags?"
"Yes, or a white tie if you prefer," answered Ryder, glancing at the tails which Leggett was wearing.
"Snatch the tails and press it," said Leggett to Martin, when they reached the rooms and the bags were opened.
"All this space just for me?" said David Ryder, looking about him at the suite.
"Well, you have to sit, and you have to study, and bathe, and dress and sleep, and it's better to have a special room for each," answered Leggett. "Like this layout?"
"I like it," said Ryder. "It looks rather Louis Quinze, but cleaner."
"Yeah, you've used your eyes," said Leggett. "Hate to see a young fool shut out the world with a book. By the way, how could you afford to come over on the airship?"
Ryder was stripping. He paused to reach into an open bag and pull out a pair of dice. He rattled them on the table. "Just a bit of luck," he said. Leggett picked up the dice and looked at them as though he never had seen the spots before. He did not lift his head from the study.
"Luck, did you say?" he asked. "Handmade luck?"
The rustling of clothes stopped and the silence lasted long enough to make Leggett look up.
"Luck, I said," remarked Ryder.
He pulled off the rest of his clothes. The muscles of a very strong man garnished the flat of his stomach and clasped his shoulders with long fingers.
"How much do you owe?" asked Leggett.
"I thought this was in the way of being a party and a homecoming and all that," answered Ryder, scorning the idea with his own smile.
He went into the bathroom; the shower began to roar. Leggett followed him.
Ryder stepped out of the shower and began to towel himself.
"Where did you get that scar over the eye?" asked Leggett.
"Some of those French fellows are pretty tough," answered Ryder.
"Street fight?" asked Leggett.
"No. Five-ounce gloves. Sports promoter used to put me on now and then. I wasn't a headliner but I made quite a bit betting on myself."
He was rubbing himself powerfully, the pink coming out through the thick of the tan. Leggett lighted a cigarette.
"Ah, well," he said, "I was thinking you might be all Ryder, meek and mild. I forget about the Leggett blood in you.... Come here, Martin!"
Martin came in with his eyes on the floor.
"Look at him," said Leggett, "and tell me if he's a good fellow."
"I can see that he is your nephew, sir," said Martin.
"I'll be damned if that's not a recommendation," growled Leggett. "Listen to me, Martin. I changed my will today when Chisholm came to see me. I have about thirty millions. I left the whole kaboodle to a good, pure-minded, quiet, gentle student named David Ryder. Aside from some little bits for devoted servants like Martin, of course. Was I a fool when I did that?"
David Ryder, his heel on the edge of the bathtub, lifted his head and looked at Martin with gray-green eyes, as he dried his toes. And Martin looked back at him.
"Mr. Ryder and I hope that you will live for many years, sir," he said.
"Don't switch to him all at once, Martin," said Leggett. "I may change my mind."
They went into the dressing room and Ryder slid into the clothes that Martin held for him. Gains rapped on the door to announce that Mr. Ravenna and Mr. Porter Brant and Miss Sydney Galloway and the Countess Lalo had arrived.
"Let's go down and meet these people," said Leggett. "Old friends of mine. Almost too friendly, considering how young a lot of 'em are."
As they went down the stairs a guitar started thrumming and a strong bass voice, sometimes husky, sometimes a little oily and bubbling, began an Italian song.
"That's Mike Ravenna," said Leggett.
They went on into the library.
Mike Ravenna, as the center of the picture with half a dozen extremely pretty women around him, leaned back in a deep chair with his legs thrust out before him, his coat off, and the guitar resting on the huge, rolling shelf of his stomach. Three other men, overshadowed by his singing, were hardly noticeable on the margin of the group.
The song ended as Leggett came in. He said: "I want everybody to know my nephew, David Ryder. David, the fat man is Ravenna. He knows all the meat in New York's political stew. Here's Jimmy Hickey, the famous columnist and scandal-breeder. Now, Jimmy, take hold of David and tell him all the dirt about everybody in the room. When he knows what he's meeting, you can introduce him."
Wrinkled and gray before his time, with a thin, ratty face, Jimmy Hickey took Ryder by the arm and led him aside. A tall, handsome girl came up to them and shook hands with Ryder. She said: "If you put your snake's tongue on my reputation, Jimmy, I'll smack you down. Mr. Ryder, I'm Eric Claussen's wife. He's the tall, dark fellow over there. You're surprised to see him here because of his clean look. No matter what Hickey says about me, he's talking through his hat."
"You'd rather be talked about through a hat than a loud-speaker," said Hickey. "Run along, Elspeth; it's wonderful how you keep your face, win or lose."
The girl smiled at Ryder and moved away.
"She's quite a nice person, at that," said Hickey. "All that keeps Elspeth from the domestic virtues is about five thousand a year—which is not enough.... That's Marene Sutherland, over there. She's just a shady bit older than the rest of them. Your uncle can tell you more about her than I can and, as for the details of her private life, just now, that lies between J.J. Leggett and J.J. Leggett. Or do I see a question in your eye?"
"Not about her; but that very beautiful girl—who is she?" asked Ryder.
"I intended to crown the glory with her," said Hickey, "but no one is speaking out of turn in mentioning Leslie Car-ton. I suppose you recognize her?"
"Recognize her? No."
"You have been away from the States," said Hickey. "Just now she's better known from the tips of her toes to the shine of her hair than anything this side of Hollywood. One of the smart magazines printed a picture of her that's been copied in every rag in the country. Haven't you really seen it? Look here!"
He drew out his cigarette case. His thumb held, behind the platinum, a picture of a girl in a bathing suit.
"Walking the waters," said Hickey, chuckling.
In fact, the girl seemed to be springing over the face of the sea and the speed of her running pressed back her hair as with two hands.
"She's more dressed in light than in clothes," said Jimmy Hickey. "The silk of a swimming suit doesn't matter, once it's drenched. You see, she was aquaplaning and the plane jumped sidewise from under her feet; at that lucky instant when her foot touched the water, the camera got her."
"And the person who took the picture sold it to a magazine?" asked Ryder coldly.
"Art for art's sake, and a few dollars added," said Hickey. "But a light like Leslie's shouldn't be hidden under a bushel. A year ago she had never seen New York; now most of New York has seen her. She has a liberal nature; at least I don't know of anyone who has had to pay for her so far."
"You don't mean that, I think," said Ryder, with disgust.
"Oh, I've only been giving you the headlines, but if you want facts, I can give you a lot of news, also."
"I'd better take that for granted," said Ryder.
"The fellow with the magnificent forehead is Porter Brant, the great producer and fathead. He wouldn't be here; he wouldn't be anywhere except for Sydney Galloway. She's that perfect profile, over there. The dark, sleek fellow who's trying to make love to her is Eric Claussen, but his wife pointed him out before. He knows enough about horses to make money at the races; some people say that that's too much knowledge for an honest man to have, but I've cashed in on some of his tips so I still speak to him. There, just sitting down on the arm of Ravenna's chair is Millicent, the Countess Lalo. She's every man's little girl and she'll ask your advice before the evening's over. She's one of those clinging vines that cost you your skin before you can tear the tendrils loose. And I guess that's everybody except the little singer, over there, Eileen Durante. The quiet girl. Studying singing. Has a sweet voice about as big as a minute. A sweet nature, too. I don't know why Leggett should bring her in among all these roisterers except that he's so crazy about old gold. Notice that? All six of them have golden hair.... Now, do you remember anything I've told you?"
"I forget easily," said Ryder.
"Good fellow!" answered Jimmy Hickey. "I knew I wasn't wasting my time on you! Come along while I introduce you... bring your drink."
He took Ryder to Leslie Carton last of all and said: "He picked you right out of the whole ruck, Leslie, just on your face. Be kind to him. He's a swift and bitter fellow; the type that loves once and loves forever."
"Don't let Jimmy Hickey bother you," said Leslie Carton. "The difference between Jimmy and a rattlesnake is that he doesn't give any warning before he strikes."
He looked after the departing figure of Hickey, who walked with a sort of sidelong aggressiveness, as though he were thrusting through a crowd.
"The little rat was showing me that picture of you," said Ryder.
"I knew he was doing that," she answered, and though her eyes had seemed bright enough before, a shadow withdrew from them now and seemed to give him a deeper entrance.
"There's this advantage," she said. "After Jimmy has talked, you know the worst."
Claussen joined them to say: "What's happened to John Leggett tonight? There's more fire in the eye than I've seen in him since Dorrie disappeared."
"I didn't know you all in Dorrie's time," said Leslie Carton, "but John looks to me like a small boy with a secret."
Ravenna said in his great, booming, gonglike voice, as he got into his coat and picked up a glass: "All my friends—before we go into dinner, let's drink to the other girl. Someone has just spoken her name. God be kind to her wherever she is.... To Dorrie!"
They all drank.
"Who is Dorrie?" asked Ryder.
"A girl who disappeared a year ago," said Leslie Carton. She had stopped smiling and looked down studiously at her cocktail. "Simply dropped out of sight. I never saw her but they all adored her."
They were going into the dining room now.
"Her name is the only thing in the world that can sadden them," said Leslie. "She must have been quite a darling. I've seen tears in the eyes of Jimmy Hickey, even, because of Dorrie. It's the only reputation in the world that he doesn't poison."
"Why do you have him about, then?" asked Ryder.
"Because it's fun to play with fire," laughed Leslie Carton, but her laughter broke on an uncertain note. He had an impression that she alone of the entire group was profoundly ill at ease.
When people found their places, Ryder was sitting with Eileen Durante on his right and Leslie Carton on his left.
"Look! Look!" cried the hearty voice of Mrs. Eric Claussen. "Everybody see my favor!"
"We all have the same thing!" exclaimed Sydney Galloway, and all six of them held up little golden angels an inch and a half tall, carved with grave Egyptian faces and inlaid wings rising stiffly above their heads.
"Are they really favors? Do we really take them?" asked Elspeth Claussen.
"You really do," said Leggett. "Because this is an evening I want you to remember."
"But why is everything so perfect?" boomed the resonant voice of Mike Ravenna. "All this polish hurts our eyes, John."
"I wanted this dinner to be perfect," said Leggett, "because it's the last time that I'll see you all together."
"The last?" chorused many voices.
"The last time that we'll all be together," said Leggett. "There's going to be an absentee the next time. I have a messenger on the way now, bringing me the proof in pictures and in writing that one of you good friends of mine has stabbed me in the back. Don't let me upset the rest of you. The guilty one will do the suffering. After dinner, I hope that I'll be able to give you the name along with the cognac."
There was a quick, whispering intake of breath all around the table. A tremor of light on the glass which Leslie Carton was fingering made Ryder glance at her. Every other face was grave but she still forced her lips to smile.
That brutal announcement by Leggett would have ruined almost any party and probably the good humor in this one could not have survived except for Mike Ravenna exclaiming: "Perhaps John is thinking of my sins. I've got enough of 'em. But my heart is floating right among the terrapin. Leslie, say something to cheer us up."
"Maybe nobody's head will go off except Jimmy's," said Leslie Carton.
The people laughed at this, except John Leggett, who kept looking straight before him at his nephew and seeing nobody. Eileen Durante lifted her big eyes at Ryder and said: "It's all just a joke, isn't it? Nothing will really happen, will there?"
"Of course it's just a joke," answered Ryder, but he felt a gathering suspense.
There was plenty of wine, particularly a priceless Romanée with a bright jewel in the heart of it. Most of the people drank a good deal and presently Ryder managed to make out the insidious voice of Jimmy Hickey saying to Marene Sutherland: "After all there ought to be a good party when the fatted calf comes home."
"Don't be nasty about him," said Marene Sutherland. "David seems nice."
"That's one of your pleasant maternal attributes, Marene," murmured Hickey, "you're so devoted to the young."
Ryder caught the rather apprehensive eye of Leslie Carton and smiled at her.
"My time to burn a bit in the fire," he nodded. "Or should I trample it out?"
"That doesn't seem to do any good," she answered. "Men have hammered him to pulp before this."
"Why does everybody seem guilty?" Ryder asked her.
"Because we haven't paid our way with John, for one thing," she answered.
"You mean that he's a great entertainer?" suggested Ryder.
"Yes," she answered.
"And so people pretend to like him a little more than they really do?"
"He wants real human beings," said the girl. She looked at Ryder and flushed, so that he suddenly realized that in this century only tennis and cocktails make girls blush. "He wants to have real people around him, but he only has a lot of bright chatter and pretty girls."
"But that big, hearty fellow, Ravenna...." suggested Ryder.
"Perhaps," she agreed. "Perhaps he's different, or perhaps we're all wrong. Do I seem guilty, too?"
"I don't care whether you're guilty or not," said Ryder.
Her eyes took note of him but she said nothing more. He had to turn to Eileen Durante. In contrast with the warmth of Leslie Carton, she had the impersonal quality of a lovely child. Whenever she spoke she smiled and whenever she smiled she opened her eyes a little so that she kept shining and dimming and shining again as she talked.
"I've heard about your singing," he said.
"I sing a little," she answered. "I'd like to sing a lot but—you know, there's not a lot of me, is there? It's only a small sort of a voice but voices sometimes grow like the rest of us, don't you think so? I sing duets with Mike Ravenna and that's very nice except when he forgets and goes booming."
She laughed and shook her head.
"Did you know Dorrie?" he asked.
"The air here seems to be full of her name."
"Dorrie? Oh, yes. No one in the world ever was as sweet as Dorrie. Sometimes we used to sing together but then, of course, nobody paid the least attention to me."
"Isn't it a frightful thing? Isn't it dreadful? She was going to meet Porter Brant and some of the rest one evening after the theater and she didn't come. She just didn't come!... And that was all that we ever heard about her.... Leslie Carton lives in the same room that Dorrie used to have. Isn't that a strange coincidence?"
"That is strange," said Ryder to Leslie Carton. "That you should have taken the same room that Dorrie used to have. Dorrie was her name?"
"Dorrie Innis. Having her room is how I happened to meet some of these friends of hers."
Brant's voice, loud, strident, interrupted them: "I want an opinion from everybody. I've been talking with Harry Weinstock, of Weinstock, Ruhl, and Klosterberg. He's seen the picture of Leslie Carton and he says that she's a natural for any picture I want to direct her in. But when I put the thing up to Leslie, she declined. I told her the sky was the limit, but the sky seems a pretty low ceiling to her. Now I ask you all... what is the duty of a beautiful girl? Has she the right to keep herself from the eyes of the world?"
Leslie Carton smiled.
"Porter offers me a lot of Weinstock money," she said, "and practically no wardrobe at all."
The table laughed.
"I imagine he wants to put you in a South Seas story, doesn't he?" asked Ryder.
There was more laughter. Hickey said: "Look at Ryder, Leslie. He's really angry. Look out for yourself. I've an idea that he's decent enough to be dangerous."
Ryder felt her look suddenly up at him and that her color had deepened a little. The sneer of Hickey passed him by. He could have blessed the venomous little man, for it was sufficiently plain, now, that the cosmopolitan nonchalance of Leslie Carton was only assumed.
One of the servants came in and murmured at the shoulder of the host. The dinner had come well to an end and Leggett stood up.
"I have to see someone in my study," he announced, "to receive very special information about one of you."
As Leggett stood up, the others began to rise. He rested the tips of his fingers on the edge of the table, looking around the oblong of faces with a grin.
"We haven't eaten as well as we do at Mike Ravenna's house," said Leggett, "but Mike wears us out at the table and I wanted to keep some of your attention for the little story I'm going to tell you later on. The story is in my office now waiting for me in black and white that will be poison for one of you. I'll soon be able to tell you who it is. Mike, will you take charge of the men for a while; and you do the same for the ladies, Elspeth?... David, let me speak to you a moment."
Even when the club was flourished over the heads of the guests in this manner the second time, their chatter continued as cheerfully as ever. As Ryder went to his uncle he heard Jimmy Hickey saying: "I suppose he'll expose me; but what do I care about scandal? You can't kill a salamander with fire, you know!"
Then Ryder got to Leggett and found him with a wine-flush in his cheeks and a gleam of excitement deep in his eyes.
"You're finding Uncle John a darned rough fellow, even with guests in his own house, eh, David?" asked Leggett. "But before I go to see my bird of evil, tell me something: Which of your neighbors would you choose, my lad? What does the old prophetic instinct say to you about Leslie Carton or Eileen Durante?"
"I'm too young to love children," said Ryder. "But Leslie Carton is different."
"The hell she is!" exclaimed Leggett in unaffected disgust. "Well..."
But he turned on his heel without more words and went quickly out of the room. On the way, Claussen called after him: "No more bad news from the street, John: not that, I hope!"
Leggett disappeared without an answer and Claussen picked up Ryder to say: "He's been losing his shirt. I suppose you know that? The great open spaces are the place for your uncle, where he can dig it out of the ground."
During this time and the moments that followed, the tragedy happened. There was a good deal of movement through the rooms. The groups which formed dissolved again. The men went about streaking cigar smoke through the air; the women rustled upstairs and down; so that no one, afterward, was able to swear to exact times and locations.
Gains, during this interval, saw Leslie Carton go into the drawing-room, stare for an instant at Tiepolo's picture of a gondola loaded with Venetian youth and beauty, and then hurry down the hall toward the office. He did not see her a little later when she ran up two flights of stairs and opened the door of an unlighted room. She closed it behind her without turning on the switch and felt her way through the blackness until her hands touched the soft pelt of a velvet curtain. Under it was the damp cold of the window pane. She found the catch, turned it, and pushed the window up with such care that it made not the least sound. Afterward she leaned out and looked to the left, but a row of little ornamental balconies blocked her view. She hesitated there for a moment. Then she took off her slippers and climbed out onto the narrow balcony. It had no guard rail to speak of and the wind leaned a hard shoulder against her dress, as against a sail. She had to take a grip on the partly raised sash of the window to anchor herself as she swayed far out. Only at the full stretch of her arm was she able to look through the window one story below, where the wall of the penthouse made an angle.
If the shade had been all the way up, she could have seen much more but as it was, all she could make out was half the body of a man stretched on the floor and another figure leaning over him. Instead of framing this picture, the edge of the window cut off the vital portions of it; she could not see the head or shoulders of either man. The man who lay on the floor did not move. A high- light blazed steadily on the toe of one of his patent-leather shoes. The pull on her arm made her muscles tremble and her fingers began to slip on the window sash, but she held her position long enough to see a hand slip inside the coat of the fallen figure and take out a long envelope edged with the red, white and blue checkering of the air mail. After that, she climbed back through the window, found a chair, and sat down in it while she pulled on her slippers.
She drew down the window, let the curtains fall together with a soft whisper, and in the black of the room retouched her hair into shape. With her memory she tried to light again the scene which she had looked down upon. It was like seeing the faces of actors without being able to hear their spoken words. The legs of the fallen man were quite long. Above the knees the flesh, pressing against the floor, filled out the trousers smoothly. He had a good deal of bulk about the waist, too, and the picture in her mind's eye was of a tall, heavy man. The figure that stooped over him was big, also, but there was a suggestion of greater youth about it. If she could have looked one foot higher into the picture she could have seen everything, but the window shade beheaded the image.
She went over the hem of her skirt to brush away any possible dust from the chiffon. Since she wore no make-up except for lipstick, she rubbed her cheeks to freshen their color before she made her way to the door and out, briskly, into the hall. All the way downstairs she walked slowly, breathing deeply to bring nerves and body under control.
David Ryder, running up the stairs with the effortless spring of a hurdler, encountered the girl at the landing. He sidestepped to let her pass, murmuring some vague greeting, and he noticed two oddities as she went by. The first was something strange about her smile. The strangeness lay in her failure to lift her eyes to his face as she smiled. Women leaving a theater are apt to talk and smile in that manner with lowered eyelids, so that their tears may not be seen. Also, the ruby pendant just below the hollow of her throat trembled into a blur of rosy light and he knew that her whole body was shaken by the wild beating of her heart. Ryder noted these symbols of emotion in the instant of passing the girl. His hand went out in a tentative gesture that stopped her.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
She shrank from his hand. As her eyes flashed up he saw the pupils dilated by fear into the true blank and mindless stare of terror.
"Nothing..." she started to say, and glanced up the stairs, shuddering.
"You don't mean that someone is following you?" he asked.
He put his foot on the next step but she shook her head.
"Don't talk, then," said Ryder. "Sit down here."
There was an Italian stone bench near them. When Ryder got her to the bench she slumped down on it.
"I'll get a cognac to you in ten seconds," said Ryder. "Don't move..."
"No... stay with me!" she whispered.
Her head inclined to one side with weakness and Ryder dropped to his knee beside her.
Eileen Durante, passing through the hall below, glanced up. She paused to study the two figures on the bench with those wide, clear eyes. Then she went on.
"Make me stand up," murmured Leslie Carton.
Ryder took her under the elbows and helped her to her feet. She drew in a greater breath.
"Lean on me a moment," directed Ryder. "You're better. Your color's coming back and the shudder is going out of you.... Can you tell me what's wrong?"
She could not speak. The lights in her eyes kept changing.
"Don't bother, then," said Ryder. "I'll ask no questions. I'll not even think a question."
"Thank you," said her lips, with only a ghost of a voice upon them. She was mastering herself like a man, growing taller, and the pendant at her throat gleamed with a steady eye as her trembling stopped.
"I mustn't be gone from them long," she said. "Do I seem all right now?"
"You're better every moment. But don't go yet."
"I'll try to smile.... Does that cover things up a bit?"
He did not reply.
At last he said: "I'll take you down,"
"No. I'll be stronger if I go alone," she told him; and then, laying a hand on his arm, she added: "How kind you are!"
His own action surprised him. Of course he had lived in Europe so long that he had picked up some of their manners, yet he was amazed to find that he had lifted her hand to his lips.
She went down the steps and paused once, looking back with a faint smile as though already she missed the strength of his support.
Afterward he hurried on to his room but when he reached it he forgot what he had wanted. He gripped the back of a chair and leaned his weight on it and tried to think but his brain kept whirling. The very air that he breathed lacked something that was vital to his existence. After a moment he realized that it was the perfume she wore, a clean, delicate fragrance, and he knew then that he never would forget it, for the thought of her was qualifying the very breath of life.
He went down to the library and found that he was the last one in. They stood about in groups except for the childish figure of Eileen Durante, who was prodding the logs in the fire-place to a flame that really was not wanted for warmth. Huge Mike Ravenna stood over her with his laughter rumbling. Jimmy Hickey sat on a deep couch between Countess Lalo and Elspeth Claussen. Marene Sutherland stood by the long, ponderous Italian table talking very earnestly with Sydney Galloway, who looked pale. Eric Claussen sat by himself, with his chin on his hand, and Porter Brant was pouring the last of a powerful brandy and soda down his throat, while Leslie Carton chatted and laughed beside him. Ryder, apart watched them all, and had one deep moment for wonder at the cheerful color in Leslie's face.
Martin came in, looking out of place in his sack suit. He went straight to Ryder, not forgetting his manners and his bows to ask pardon for the intrusion as he crossed the room. Then he was saying close to the ear of Ryder: "Will you come at once, sir? In the study... your uncle is..."
The thin, sallow lips of Martin trembled over the words. He choked, the Adam's apple working up and down in his scrawny throat. Ryder went out of the room with him instantly. In the hallway he said: "Now what's the matter, Martin?"
The valet turned his head, making a gesture with both hands that seemed to proffer an explanation, but he said nothing as he opened the door of the study.
From the threshold Ryder saw John James Leggett lying on the green rug beside the desk, smiling a little with half-open eyes and a bullet hole in his temple. In his right hand he still held an automatic.
SOME of the years which are marked down one by one between our eyes had been rubbed from the forehead of Leggett by death, so that he seemed to Ryder not elderly but in the middle of his prime. Martin, with both hands still extending to show the monstrous thing to the world, stood half a pace inside the door and kept looking back at Ryder with wild eyes.
"Don't be an emotional damned fool," said Ryder.
Martin, shuddering, dropped his hands and stood straight again. He watched the face of Ryder and nothing else with a profound, continuing hate.
"Suicide, eh?" asked the calm voice of Ryder.
"No!" cried Martin.
"The gun in his hand, the powder burn around the bullet hole."
"Murder, sir," said Martin.
Ryder drew out a handkerchief and took the polish of sweat from his forehead.
"Stop shouting," he commanded. "One of the servants, do you think?"
"Have you telephoned the police?"
"They'll call it suicide but you and I think something else.... One of the guests?"
"Yes, sir," Martin said emphatically.
"Come back with me to the library. I'm going to announce this and I want you to help me watch the faces. Have you got the fog out of your eyes?"
They returned to the library, where Ryder halted a step inside the door with Martin just behind him. Ravenna, nearing the end of an anecdote, had the others already nodding with expectant laughter. The still figure near the door stopped the booming of his voice; and all eyes settled on Ryder.
He said: "I'm sorry to shock you but you have to know. Mr. Leggett has just shot himself and is lying dead in his study."
The people who were seated got up slowly, one by one. Out of the silence, the big voice of Ravenna rang suddenly:
"John? Gone from us? My God!" and he lunged for the door with his hands out as though the grasp of them still might hold a soul on earth, if only he were quick about it. Everyone followed him like leaves drawn into a great wake, except Millicent, Countess Lalo. She dropped back onto the couch from which she had just risen and rolled from the edge of it to the floor with her arms loosely thrown above her head. Ryder, scanning every face, saw the countess open her eyes slightly to peer after the rest, and then close them tight.
Ryder stopped that exodus at the last moment by calling out in a loud, harsh voice: "Everyone stay in here, please."
They piled up in confusion for a moment but gradually gave back before his authority. Only Mike Ravenna caught him by the arms and muttered: "I've got to see John, David! I've got to see him. Let poor Mike go and see him."
The sweat streamed down the face of the fat man so rapidly that he seemed to be weeping. Ryder answered: "Just take care of things in here for a while, will you?... You might give some attention to the countess, if she's still trying to faint. The medical examiner will be here before long and then, of course, everyone can go home."
He closed the door of the library; a woman whose voice he could not identify began to cry out as Ryder went to the study with Martin. On the way he said: "Did anyone hear the shot, Martin?"
"The study is soundproofed, sir," said Martin. "It has a triple window, even. Mr. Leggett did not set aside much time for thought but when he worked he would not be disturbed."
"You watched their faces in the library, just now?" asked Ryder. "How did they look to you?"
"Like a string of fish hooked on one line," said Martin.
"But I mean... even young Miss Durante?"
"I gave her an eye. Yes... even her," said Martin. "And the countess that decided to faint, too."
"Guilty?" growled Ryder. "It's as though you'd asked nine fish which one was wet."
Martin, opening the door of the study once more, picked up a newspaper on a chair near the entrance and began to lay out news sheets on the rug at convenient stepping points.
"In case the police should be annoyed if the footprints were blurred," explained Martin, "by a great deal of later trampling."
"Footprints? In a rug?" exclaimed Ryder.
Martin said: "The police work with camera eyes and laboratories now, Mr. Ryder."
"Well, that's true," said Ryder.
When he reached the body, he put his hands on his knees and leaned over it. The half-open eyes looked steadily back at him. A big, purple-black powder-burn surrounded the hole in the right temple. There was a larger opening on the opposite side of the head. The right forefinger of Leggett still engaged the trigger- guard of the automatic.
"Well?" said Ryder, straightening.
Martin pointed to the open drawers of the desk, the confusion of papers.
"What about the man who called here to see my uncle?" asked Ryder.
"Tall, no forehead, a big, hanging jaw, a huge nose," said Martin.
"The police will want to know that," said Ryder.
"The man left while Mr. Leggett still was alive," answered Martin. "Gains saw him out, and saw Mr. Leggett standing at the door."
"He brought a message about one of the guests tonight," said Ryder. "But perhaps the message had something to do with my uncle, also. Enough to drive him to suicide?"
"Never!" said Martin.
"He simply allowed another man to put a gun against his head and pull the trigger? That's absurd, Martin. My uncle was a pretty lively fellow. He could not have been shot except from a distance."
"SUPPOSE he had no suspicion?" asked Martin.
"Well, a woman? Perhaps in his arms, sir? She lifts the gun out of that top drawer and puts it against his head."
"Is it his gun, Martin?"
"It's suicide, Martin."
"What makes you sure?"
"I know him, sir."
"How long have you been with him?"
"Three years, sir."
"That's not very long."
"More than a lifetime with another man, sir."
"Murder, eh?" said Ryder, dropping to one knee and one hand, close to the body. Something cold touched his finger at the edge of Leggett's sleeve. He pulled out one of the six golden angels. His hand swallowed it instantly from sight. He rose and slipped the token into his pocket. The bright eyes of Martin haunted his face constantly.
"I'll see Gains," said Ryder.
He saw Gains in the pantry. The butler breathed thick brandy fumes on Ryder as he stood up.
"You saw the fellow leave my uncle's study, Gains?" asked Ryder.
"Yes, sir," said Gains.
"You had a look at my uncle at the same time?"
"Yes, sir. He seemed all right. A little grim, perhaps. The stranger was only in the study for ten seconds."
"What did he say?" asked Ryder.
"Nothing at all. He didn't speak all the way out to the elevator," said Gains.
"Nothing else to tell me?"
Ryder said to Martin: "See that none of the women leave the library."
"The women, sir?" said Gains. "Why, they've gone just a moment ago. Mr. Brant told me to show them out."
"Gone?" cried out Ryder.
He got to the library as fast as he could and jerked the door open. The four men were sitting on the couch, talking with a quiet earnestness, and they jerked up their heads as Ryder called:
"Ravenna, I asked you to take care of things in here. What the devil does it mean—the women leaving?"
Porter Brant stood up and took advantage of all his height. He said: "My dear young fellow, a gentleman doesn't make the ladies uncomfortable when...."
"Ah, but, David... was it wrong?" asked Mike Ravenna, coming toward him with his hands outstretched.
"I don't know," said Ryder. "I hope not, of course. But who the devil suggested that they go?"
"I did," said Porter Brant.
Ryder got himself out of the room and found Martin in the hall.
"Send six messengers," he commanded, "to the women who were here; give each messenger a note saying that I beg them to return the dinner favors they received tonight. Say that it's very important. You understand? The six golden angels that were by their plates at dinner. Do that on the jump."
The inspector, a silent man with the look of a weary old tiger, sat and twiddled his thumbs until he had the report of the medical examiner. That report was brief. The doctor said: "Leggett shot himself."
The inspector, who had listened without comment to Ryder's story, said: "Perfectly simple. The man he saw in his studio brought him bad news. Find that man and we can learn why Leggett killed himself. That ought to be simple. Nothing more to tell me, Mr. Ryder?"
"Nothing more," said Ryder, gripping the golden angel in his pocket.
"Goodby, then, Mr. Ryder," said the inspector. "My condolences to you, and all that."
The law had finished. The newspapers had only begun.
"How many reporters are out there?" asked Ryder of Martin.
"They and the photographers are still coming," said Martin.
"Ask Mr. Ravenna to speak to me in the study," said Ryder. "And tell the other three that there's nothing to keep them in the house any longer."
"In the study?" repeated Martin.
"That's it," said Ryder.
He sat down in the big chair behind the desk and lighted a cigarette just as Ravenna came in.
"The air outside is full of newshawks and buzzards," said Ryder. "Will you go talk to them, Ravenna? They know you well enough to listen to what you say."
"I'll go," said Ravenna.
He dropped down on one knee with a lightness amazing for his bulk and took one hand of the dead man. The sweat kept distilling from the green-gray of his face and Ryder watched the running of every drop. He allowed the silence to continue for a moment like a quickening stream. Then he said: "Tell them that I'm prostrated by grief and can't see anyone; tell them financial worry about the state of the market undoubtedly preyed on the mind of Mr. Leggett."
Ravenna crossed himself and stood up.
"I'll talk to them," he said, turning to the door.
Ryder got there before him and grasped the huge, soft hand.
"I thought you were real before," he said. "I know it, now. You loved him, Mike, didn't you?"
"Loved John?" echoed Ravenna. A smile twitched at his face and shook it like a stiff jelly. "But why did he do it?"
"He didn't. It was done for him," answered Ryder. "There's the why of it. In that desk a few days ago he put a new will leaving everything to me. You see the drawers open now? There's no use searching through them. The new will won't be found."
"Murder? D'you mean murder?" whispered the Italian.
"Everybody in the house had a chance to come in here after dinner," said Ryder. "You and I along with the rest."
"But a man who carried his purse in his hand—who never refused—" said Ravenna.
When he had finished his gesture, he shook back his shoulders and said: "There's another matter, speaking of money. Whatever you get from the estate won't be in your hand for some time. You'll need cash in hand, David, and here's my check for some running expenses."
He took out a checkbook and wrote out a check for ten thousand dollars. When Ryder tried to thank him he brushed the words aside as he murmured: "But murder, David? Who in the name of the kind God could have borne malice toward John Leggett?"
"He had too much money," said Ryder. "Every rich man has murder in his bank account. If he's stingy, people will kill him to get at his wallet. If he's generous, it shows how much cash the murderer can get. If he'd missed his luck in Canada, he'd be alive now."
"Is that it?" murmured Ravenna with a sort of helpless acceptance.
He turned slowly from the room and went down the hall.
Gains helped Ryder take the dead man into his bedroom and there Ryder sat in the dimness before an open window, with his arms folded. Ravenna came back to him after a time and said: "Shall I make the arrangements, David?"
"Will you?" asked Ryder. "And have everything quiet, Mike."
Ravenna left but Martin presently called softly from the hall: "We have the answers about the golden angels, sir," and Ryder went out to speak with him, holding out his hand.
Martin gave him three envelopes.
The first said:
Dear Mr. Ryder,
I don't know what you have in mind, but please don't ask me to give up my only souvenir of Mr. Leggett.
The second, in a different vein, said:
Dear David Ryder,
I started to send out the little golden angel and then when I looked at its face it seemed to beg me not to let it go. So I've kept it. Do you mind? Terribly?
The third, from Eileen Durante, told him:
Dear Mr. Ryder,
Do you really want it? I read your note over again. And then I knew that it couldn't go back by a mere messenger. But if you have to have it, I'll bring it myself, whenever you say the word.
"Here are three answers," said Ryder. "What about the rest?"
"Mrs. Claussen slammed the door in the face of the messenger after she had said 'No.' Marene Sutherland was completely prostrated and could not be seen by anyone. Miss Leslie Carton was not at home."
"Not at home?" demanded Ryder.
"Not at home, sir."
"It doesn't matter," said Ryder. "From the whole six I collect a zero. What do you make of that, Martin?"
"The American woman is a person of high spirit, sir," said Martin, and bowed so low that his face could not be seen.
Ryder sent Martin to bed and went back into the room with the dead man to sit again long enough to mark the slow drifting of the stars in the sky. Afterward he stepped into the hall to listen to the house and savor the air, then he passed the circling well of the stairs to the study and pushed the door open.
As though the edge of the door had knocked a spark out of the darkness, a faint bright streak that might have been an optical illusion crossed his eyes. He shut the door softly behind him. He found the light switch at the right but before he turned it, he squatted on his heels.
The flare of the lights showed him nothing except the polished gleam of the desk and the meadow-green softness of the rug, but a thin fragrance hung in the air and it was this that made him stand up and stalk the desk with care. At the right of it he found a crouching figure in black velvet.
"Well?" said Ryder, and Marene Sutherland stood up before him. The velvet hood slipped away from the crumpled red-gold of her hair and in the hollow of her throat a short emerald pendant trembled between dark and bright.
"Sit down," said Ryder.
She fumbled for a chair and slid into it without taking her eyes from him.
"I'm not going to call the police. Do you want a drink?" asked Ryder.
"No," she whispered.
He offered a cigarette, which she took without being able to drop her eyes from him.
"When you feel up to talking, say so," remarked Ryder, and began to walk up and down the floor, his steps making a hushing sound on the thick of the rug.
"I'll try now," said she.
He stamped out his cigarette in an ashtray and sat on the edge of the desk, looking down at his folded hands.
She said: "I had to come back. There's something here that John wouldn't have wanted anyone to find."
Ryder did not move or speak until the silence had a pulse in it. Then he remarked without looking up: "I don't want to make this hard for you; and I can't tell what questions I should ask. Take your time. Are you sure you don't want a drink to brace you?"
"Will you look at me?" she asked.
He lifted his eyes and she shrank from them but then steadied at once. Her fingers busily strangled and smoothed and strangled again a little velvet purse.
"There's a diamond bracelet," she said. "He gave it to me... then things went very badly and I had to ask John for more help... he gave me the help... but he said that I had to be more businesslike... and he took back the bracelet when he gave me the loan because he said that I would have to leave it in pawn until... until..."
She was unable to talk any more. Her eyes took a frightened desperate hold of his.
"Then I think we'd better find the bracelet, don't you?" said Ryder.
She cried out; "Do you mean it, Mr. Ryder?... Everybody would recognize it. And if it were found among his things...."
"We don't want that, do we?" asked Ryder. "Ordinary gossip is bad enough but printed gossip kills a man's reputation; they'd print this. You start on the right-hand drawers and I'll start on the left."
He made a good deal of noise rustling the papers but not sufficient to cover the sound of her panting and then a gasp as she started up with an old brown leather case between her hands. When she opened it, the whole inside was a white welter of fire. She held it for him to inspect the incrustation of big brilliants but, instead, he looked only at her begging eyes.
"If I were you, I'd take it right home," said Ryder.
"Do you mean..." she gasped.
"It's all right," said Ryder.
"God bless you!" cried Marene Sutherland.
"I could do with a blessing or two," smiled Ryder. "Shall I see you out?"
"Wouldn't it be better not?"
"I'll stay here, then. By the way, do you happen to have that dinner favor, the little golden angel, with you?"
"I left it at home. I'm so sorry. Do you want it?"
"It doesn't matter. But how did you manage to get into the penthouse?"
"You know—I have a key—"
"Oh, have you?" asked Ryder. "Well, that explains. Good night."
She took the hand he held out and said: "I wish... I wish..." Then she fled away into the hall.
Ryder turned out the lights and sat down behind the desk again. He rested his face on the flat of his hand, blinding his eyes; but when he tried to think, a thousand pictures and sounds poured back over his memory. The jerk of his head as he nodded into sleep roused him again, guiltily, with a sense that time had slipped suddenly past him. He had reached for a cigarette when that glint of light on the knob of the door went out; the door opened with a gradually sighing sound; and the lights were snapped on by tall Eric Claussen with his topcoat open and his silk hat tilted far back on his head.
The sight of Ryder knocked the breath out of him with a grunt. He jerked out a heavy old army automatic with a suddenness that made his whole body crouch, and his long face twisted as he sighted down the barrel.
"Get your hands up, Ryder," he directed. Ryder lifted them as he rose from the chair.
"Out here away from the desk," said Claussen.
Ryder stepped out into the center of the floor.
"Go ahead with the desk, if that's what you want," said Ryder. "Nothing of mine is in it."
"You're the new generation, calm and cool and sure, eh?" said Claussen. "I'd like to tell you what the older generation think of the young rats that crawl around the face of the earth today."
"But you're not so old yourself, are you?" asked Ryder. "Not much over thirty. Not very much, are you?"
"I don't know just what I'm going to do with you," said Claussen, "but I'll register a few points before I decide. I want to speak about your high head and the sneer you carry around with you. D'you think that looks European and distinguished? It only makes you a pain in the neck. Are you getting this? In the company tonight you looked like a selling plater with stake horses."
"Yes, I thought you were all running for money," nodded Ryder.
"You thought we were what?"
"You're about thirty-two and a hundred and ninety pounds." said Ryder. "You're not too old and you're not too small for me to hit, so here it is, Claussen."
He stepped in with his left foot and dropped his right fist on the chin of Claussen. The automatic jerked up, but without exploding. Ryder hit again with the same hand, a little straight, stabbing punch. Afterward he took Claussen under the armpits and dragged him to a chair into which he allowed the long body to slump. The silk hat did not fall off but leaned at a drunken forward angle. Ryder picked the gun out of nerveless fingers. He stooped to look at the unseeing eyes, then left the study, locked the door on the outside, and went upstairs to Martin's room.
When he entered and turned on the light, Martin sat up in bed and reached under the pillow.
"It's all right," said Ryder. "I have a guest downstairs that I want you to talk to. Put on slippers and a bathrobe and come along."
A niche had been hollowed into the wall and in the niche hung a gilded crucifix. Ryder glanced at the tortured body before he stepped into the hall to wait. Martin came out almost at once, smoothing down a forelock.
"I have brought a gun, sir," he said, looking at the weapon in Ryder's hand.
"Oh, this thing?" said Ryder, with a casual start. "Take this, too. We won't be needing guns.... The poor fool left the safety catch on. A grown man, too, Martin. Otherwise the police might be wanting him for murder."
When he unlocked the door of the study, Martin said: "Let me go first, sir!"
But Ryder shook his head and thrust the door open. Claussen, half hanging out the window, jerked himself back into the room as the two entered.
"Our friend Claussen, as you see," said Ryder. "Tell me about him, Martin, will you?"
"Is that a command, sir?" asked Martin.
"Absolutely," answered Ryder.
"Oh, damn all this," broke out Claussen. "I want five minutes alone with you, Ryder."
"I don't think you'd last that long," said Ryder. "But go ahead, Martin. Tell me about this fellow, will you?"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Claussen," said Martin.
Claussen snatched a cigarette out of the tray on the desk and lighted it. Martin began: "Mr. Claussen is a very talented man. He is a mind-reader, sir. He can tell by a face what woman will lend him money and which jockey can be bribed to pull a horse. So he gets on very well in the world, of course."
Claussen, breathing out a great volume of smoke, barely glanced at Martin.
"Do you want to hear this sort of dirt?" asked Claussen, "or will you talk with me alone?"
"I don't want to be alone with you, and I don't think you want it, either," said Ryder.
"You're talking about that other thing, eh?" said Claussen. "Why, that was sheerest bluff, of course. The safety catch was on the entire time."
"You remembered that afterward," nodded Ryder. "Go on about him for a moment or two, Martin. I want to know what dealings he had with my uncle."
"Mr. Leggett made certain mistakes about people," said Martin. "This was one of them. He was beginning to pay for the mistake before the end. A few days ago he sent a very crisp note to Mr. Claussen asking for an immediate payment of some old debts."
"A lie, of course," said Claussen.
"How do you know that?" asked Ryder.
"I delivered the note, sir."
"Did you open it on the way?"
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"You made a habit of opening my uncle's mail?"
"Yes, sir, unless it was sealed with wax."
"You haven't anything in that desk such as IOU's, or any mementos like that, have you?" asked Ryder of Claussen.
"Not a scrap," said Claussen.
"No notes?" asked Ryder.
"Not a shade of anything," said Claussen.
"There were notes up to sixty-five thousand dollars," said Martin.
"Out the window, perhaps?" suggested Ryder.
Martin shook his head and sniffed the air. "Don't you smell it, sir? Nothing has quite the dry smell of burned paper. Ah, and here are some of the ashes that blew in from the window over the shoulder of Mr. Claussen."
He GOT down on his knees and gathered on a piece of paper some brittle little pieces of ash on the floor. He took them back to Ryder, saying:
"There's part of a watermark on this flake, sir. There's no doubt about it at all. These are paper ashes."
"That desk is a regular pasture, isn't it?" said Ryder. "All sorts of poor devils come in and get fat off it.... What shall we do with this fellow, Martin?"
"Burglary and the possession of a concealed weapon; that sometimes mounts up to a good many years. I'd give him to the police, sir."
"Don't be a venomous fool, Martin," said Claussen. "I can send you up the river for ten years."
"Thank you very kindly, sir," said Martin. "It would be a pleasure to accompany you."
"Can he do what he says?" asked Ryder.
"Can he send you up the river?"
"I don't doubt that he can, sir. There have been certain unfortunate moments in my past life...."
"Take him down to the street and turn him loose," said Ryder.
"Monsieur, is it not foolish to be honorable with a thief?" asked Martin.
Claussen merely rubbed the little red patch at the side of his chin where the fist of Ryder had landed twice; and he considered first the valet, then the master, in silence.
"That's all," said Ryder. "But by the way, how did you get in?"
"I came in over the roof of the adjoining building."
"That would take nerve, and his knees and elbows would show the climbing," commented Martin.
"How did you get in?" repeated Ryder.
"As I told you."
"Think it over for a moment," suggested Ryder. "Otherwise, I'll turn you over to Martin and see what he can do with you."
Ryder walked a step or two through the room. Then Claussen said: "Well.... I knew that Marene Sutherland had a key to the place. When I left here, I went to her hotel. She wasn't in. When she arrived, I got the key from her."
"Oh?" said Ryder. "Just asked for it, and she turned it over to you?"
"You don't lie well. You really don't," said Ryder. "How did you force her to give you the key?"
"I happen to know a good deal about Marene..." growled Claussen.
"So you frightened her into giving up the key? Well, put it on the desk."
"Take him away, Martin," said Ryder. "And when you come back, look on the roof under this window and see if anything is lying there."
Martin nodded and went into the hall, where he waited.
Claussen, turning at the door, said over his shoulder: "You've turned out to be an interesting fellow, Ryder. Very!"
He walked down the hall with a good, brisk step, while Martin slunk like a cat behind him.
Afterward, as Ryder started to undress, Martin appeared with a report that nothing had been on the roof beneath the window.
IT was not the first-page account that Ryder dwelt on the next morning. He sat up in bed with his coffee and passed the paper to Martin.
"Read me Jimmy Hickey's column," he directed. "I want to get the sound of it in my ears."
Martin began to read, with his precise enunciation and the faint foreign tang in the "i's" and "w's":
"John James Leggett committed suicide.
"Thirty million dollars was more than he wanted, so he just said: 'To hell with everything.'
"He began to yearn for the good old days in Canada when he was ripping the gold out of the earth; he hankered after the beans and bacon and the bite of the black fly.
"So he gave a beautiful dinner and, being about to die, he asked to it some expensive Young Things.
"He wanted Spiritual Advice, so he asked a race-track gambler, a moving-picture False Front, a columnist who once was young and bright, a political Whiz-bang, and he also asked a young nephew, a little harder than a wolf's tooth and a little sharper, who had nothing to gain by his uncle's death except thirty million dollars.
"In the course of the party, he hinted that before the end of the evening he was going to prove to everybody that one of his guests was a cross between a skunk and a laughing hyena. But the end of the evening never came. J.J. Leggett lay dead in his office with a powder mark on his forehead and a bullet right through his brain.
"The police say it was suicide. But if J.J. Leggett had any reason for dying, you and I ought to have been dead long, long ago; we never should have started living.
"Anyway, that's all we're going to know until the will is published. And then won't it be nice if he has left big, fat legacies to all of his chief mourners? By the way, why was Porter Brant hugging to his breast all evening a certain long air-mail envelope?"
"So," said Martin, "it ends. This Jimmy Hickey is not a big knife but a very sharp one. He leaves no meat on the bone, sir."
"There's a lot in what Hickey has to say," decided Ryder. "Isn't it true that every person at that party might have had a reason for murdering my uncle?"
Martin was silent.
"At the present time," said Ryder, "you don't want to give me anything; not even good advice. Because when I first arrived and found my uncle treating you like a member of the family, I said a few pretty sharp words. But, after all, you have a brain that I could use and I have a brain that you could use; besides, we have a common purpose, which is to find out who shot J.J. Leggett. Why shouldn't we get together?"
"Certainly, sir," said Martin, but a shadow of reservation appeared and vanished from his eyes.
"Go back to my last question. Do you think of a single person last night who has perfectly clean hands?"
"There is Eileen Durante," said Martin.
"Unless she's too perfect to be true," suggested Ryder.
Martin accepted this remark with a nod. He added: "I know that all the men and some of the women, at least, have had money from Mr. Leggett. And money is the same as blood when it comes to paying back."
"One person didn't do this, Martin."
"I'm glad you agree. How do you see it done?"
"One takes the attention of Mr. Leggett and holds it. A second one puts a gun to his head and shoots him down, sir," said Martin.
"That means there were two of them in the study with him at the time of his death," said Ryder. "Now notice this: At the moment, people were scattered all through the place. They were going here and there, but not one of the lot noticed anyone at any time entering the study. Doesn't that seem strange? Nobody has the slightest scrap of information to offer."
"Naturally I noticed that, sir."
"Go a step farther with me. Those people formed a coterie. They all had been asked to this place many times."
"Except Miss Durante, sir. Mr. Ravenna brought her specially last night at Mr. Leggett's request. Mr. Leggett seemed to think that there should be one really good girl present... after he knew that you were coming."
"Ravenna and Eileen Durante. We could leave them out of the picture, I think.... And Miss Leslie Carton," said Ryder, lighting a cigarette, "has a damaged reputation along with the rest of those girls?"
The silence endured for a moment. Ryder looked up sharply.
When Martin felt his eye, he said: "I don't think you want that question answered, sir."
"No," answered Ryder, breathing out a great cloud of smoke. "I don't want it answered." He took a turn through the room. "The fact remains that all of those people know one another well. They make a group by themselves. You follow me, Martin?"
"They might have planned the murder beforehand?" asked Martin. "They all co-operated, you mean, sir?"
"I mean that," said Ryder, "and I mean that if we can follow the trail of any one of them to the finish we'll probably find the whole crowd. Any clue we can trace probably will be a gun held at the heads of all of 'em."
Martin did not answer, but he stood a little straighter and taller, like one about to take a step.
"Do you know any good private detective agencies?" asked Ryder.
"There is one which a friend of mine runs, sir."
"Telephone for him, and ask him to come here. But not at once."
"No, sir?" asked Martin.
"No. Wait a moment."
After a moment he said: "Martin, give me the telephone number of Miss Carton."
Martin picked up the pad near the bedside telephone and poised a pencil over it.
"Before you go any farther, sir," he said, "perhaps you ought to remember that the police have closed this case. They are satisfied that it is suicide."
"The man who talked to me yesterday never could have committed suicide," said Ryder. He dropped a hand into his coat pocket and gripped the golden angel. "Even with every proof against us, you know and I know that it was murder. Am I right?"
"Yes, sir. You are right," said Martin, and wrote down a number on the pad.
A moment later Ryder was saying over the wire: "Did I wake you up?"
"No, I keep country hours in the morning," answered Leslie Carton.
"I want to see you if I may."
"Of course you may. I'm about to take a turn around the reservoir in the Park. Will you come along? The entrance south of the Metropolitan Museum...."
"I'll be there in ten minutes," said Ryder, and sprang out of his bed.
"Get your detective up here in a couple of hours, if you can," he directed Martin; and a moment later he was amazed to find himself singing in the shower.
WHEN the taxi brought him to the Park entrance she already was walking up and down in a thin, rust-colored suit with a pale blue mist of chiffon about her throat. The glory of the morning drew suddenly close to Ryder and the automobiles which whirred up and down the avenue sang like violins for him. The shoes she stepped in, the very feather in her hat shared her life. He felt that he had spent all his years in the cold of a dark winter.
"Which way shall we go?" she asked, when he shook hands.
"Any direction away from unhappiness," said Ryder. "There it goes—over my left shoulder."
"I throw mine away, too," she said. "Whatever is horrible and sad we won't talk about."
"Do you mean the thought of my Uncle John?" he asked. "I don't mind his ghost walking along with me."
"He meant such a lot to you?"
"Do you carry your whole life along with you like that?" she asked. "Does it all walk up and down with you?"
"I carry a lot of it along. You know how it is? Poverty gives us sharp teeth and we bite pretty far into good moments."
"You've something serious in your mind. Will you talk about it?"
"I want to know what had given you the jitters when I met you on the stairs. What had happened to you?"
He told himself that her color did not change and certainly that smile which had been for the beauty of the morning continued.
She walked on for a moment, before she said: "There was something that I wanted to ask your uncle about. It was terribly important and so after dinner when the people were scattered I went back down the hall toward the studio, When I was nearly there, I heard a dull sound; the sort of a sound that would be made by slamming shut a big ledger—all the air inside the pages squeezing out with one puff. Then I realized that the studio was carefully soundproofed and that no matter how a book was slammed the noise would not be heard so far. Perhaps a gunshot would. I ran up to the floor above and into a room which I remembered overlooked the court. From the window of it I saw the studio. A man was lying on the floor. I saw his body up to the shoulders. And another man leaning over him. I couldn't see the head of either one."
"A man on the floor. Another man leaning over him," echoed Ryder.
"It made me sick with fear. I hurried back. Then I met you on the stairs. I was afraid that if I told what I had seen..."
"You were afraid that you'd be involved?"
"I knew it was too late to do anything about it. I knew the man on the floor was dead!"
"How did you know that?"
"I can't tell. Something about the way the feet pointed out—but I seemed to know. I got down from the window and wanted to scream. But I changed my mind. I felt that in that house it was best to be dumb and blind; to know nothing."
He let the words drift through his mind. Then he asked: "Can you tell me what the question was that you wanted to ask Leggett?" He saw by her smile that she was enduring a sick misery.
"No. I don't think I can talk about that."
"Very well," said Ryder. "We won't."
"We'll drop that, but how could you keep from telling the world that there was something in the study—a dead man, perhaps?"
"I didn't dare to connect myself with such a thing. If I had to be a witness in a court... everything might have been ruined that I..."
"What are you talking about?" cried Ryder.
"I don't know... I didn't mean..."
He saw that she could not go on and his face turned cold with sweat.
"Forget that for a moment," he said, "but tell me why you should have been with people like that crowd of last night. You don't belong among.them, do you?"
"I don't know," she said.
He asked sharply: "You remember that golden angel, that dinner favor you had last night?"
"Happen to have it in that purse?"
"No. Do you want it?"
"It's not important."
They passed through a drift of many people, and as they drew clear the girl paused and rested a hand on the iron fence that guarded the water. She was pale now, with a sick blue shadow around her mouth.
"What will you think if I ask you to turn back and let me go on alone?" she asked.
The words struck him like a fist. He tasted the shock to the roots of his brain.
"You saw someone in that last group of people," he told her.
"I can't answer you," said Leslie Carton. "I'm sorry, David."
She held out her hand and he touched it. Afterward he had to turn. He wanted to say some farewell word. It seemed only fair to tell her that her talk had seemed a mere procession of lies and that the man-hunt certainly would open on her trail, but he could not speak, and all the while his feet were carrying him away from a moment to which he never could return.
When he returned to the penthouse, the detective was waiting for him, Martin said.
The valet watched him with a brightly impersonal curiosity.
"Shall I bring you a drink, sir?" he asked.
"Do I look as bad as that?" answered Ryder. "Tell me about women, Martin. You're a cocksure fellow and you know everything well enough to suit yourself. Put what you know about women into one sentence."
"The ones to be afraid of are the ones we like," said Martin.
"Are they?" asked Ryder, bitterly. "Well, show me your detective. And let me tell you something, Martin: if a woman seemed a saint right out of heaven with the blue still in her eyes, if I found she had a hand in the murder of Mr. Leggett, I'd throw her to the dogs."
Hans Seelig looked like the Spirit of 1880, from his spats to his round, solid stomach. His chin was so big and his forehead so low that the two tufts of black mustache marked the exact center of his face.
"Whatever client is introduced to me," he began, "by my very considered friend, Mr. Martin..."
"Be still," said Martin. "Here is the list of names and addresses. Have them all watched."
"By day or by night?"
"By both times."
"That will mean a detail of two to every case; it will cost a great deal of money," said Seelig.
"Mr. Ryder enjoys spending money," said Martin.
"Watch them all, but one in particular," said Ryder. "Whatever you do, be sure of Miss Leslie Carton."
Mr. Seelig laughed a little. He took from the air an invisible particle, crushed it between his immaculate thumb and forefinger, and snapped it away into nothingness.
"She will be in your hands, sir," said Seelig. "We shall count her steps and take down her words syllable by syllable."
"There's one important figure who must be made to appear," said Ryder. "The man who came to see my uncle after dinner and went away again. We have to learn why he came. The police seem to be making some effort to get at him. But they've practically closed the case by calling it suicide. Seelig, we must get to that man. Gains can tell you a good deal about his appearance."
"If he is like a drop of water in a granite rock, nevertheless we will squeeze him out, not?" asked Seelig with his fat smile.
By the time Ryder had dressed, Martin announced one Chester A. Chisholm on the telephone. "Mr. Leggett's lawyer," said Martin.
A sharp, rapid voice called over the wire: "Mr. Ryder? Mr. David Ryder?... Chester Chisholm speaking; your uncle's lawyer.... You probably heard from your uncle yesterday about the new will?"
"I did," said Ryder.
"You have it in hand? It was in the desk."
"It can't be found," said Ryder.
"Can't be found? It must be found!" cried Chisholm.
"It's not in the desk," insisted Ryder.
Chisholm groaned. Then he ran on: "At any rate, I'll see you at the crematorium and I can speak with you there... but the new will must be found. It was signed only yesterday."
"Who else would have known about it?" demanded Ryder.
"No one. No one at all. Only Martin.... I'll see you later."
THE crematorium passed through the mind of Ryder like a white blank face of horror. There was no service. Chester Chisholm, like a sleek old raven streaked with white, knew that the wish of Leggett was for no religious ceremony; only at the last moment Michael Ravenna stood by the coffin with his hand on the dead hand of Leggett and said, with that gonglike, booming utterance which changed the casual nature of the words:
"After all, David, if we were standing by a ship bound for the other side of the world, we'd say goodby to John and know that he'd have a good time in every port he touched. He never worried about what lay ahead. God is no fool. He'll be kind to that sort of a man."
He ended: "Goodby, John!" and stepped back. The panels unfolded and the coffin slid in between them and was lost.
Afterward Ravenna said: "It is a bad shock to you? Do you want to be alone, David?"
"It's not as bad as that," said Ryder.
"Then come home with me," urged Ravenna.
"I think not, thank you," said Ryder.
"Because you love him, my boy, eh? And you want nobody else walking up and down in your mind with him? You keep remembering the long arm that John stretched out to you?"
Ryder drew a breath and said: "When I was alone in the world he came to see me. I was only a youngster. The house was empty. The world was empty outside it. But he walked in and took me away to a new sort of life, schools and schoolmasters, and all that. He kept himself aloof. I'd get a letter perhaps once a year. But that didn't matter. After that day I knew where his heart was. I knew I wasn't alone."
The gentle eyes of Ravenna dwelt on him. "Now that you've said that, John has an epitaph and you and I are the ones who know it. You feel better after talking, don't you?"
"Yes," said Ryder.
"Then you'll come home with me and we'll not speak another word about him."
Chester A. Chisholm said to them: "I have a few things to attend to, and then I must talk with you both."
"Come to my place for the talking, will you?" asked Ravenna, and pulled Ryder away.
THEY went down on the East Side to a little street two blocks long with brownstone houses on each side of it, all alike with square pillars on the porches and identical flights of stairs. Time had chipped holes in the face of this eminent respectability. Ragged children on roller skates played in the street, dipping in and out in front of the automobiles.
When the car stopped, Ravenna got out and led Ryder through a cellar door. Inside, he called: "Hai, Luigi! Luigi!"
To the right and left the partitions of four original cellar rooms had been cut into spacious arches. A vivid green made the background, but there was plenty of red and yellow all around the cellar in strong splashes, and from the arches or along the walls baskets and boxes of garden earth overstreamed with flowers. Around the sides of the rooms walked a painted frieze of fat muttons and tender young lambs running under orchards of red apples or orange trees overweighted with golden fruit.
Luigi appeared, smiling.
Ravenna said: "Luigi, give us some chicken and spaghetti cooked the way only you know how to cook it, with nothing but butter and grated Parmesan."
He turned to Ryder. "Shall we eat down here? No, the ghosts of all my friends would be with us sitting in their old places in this world of food and Mike Ravenna. And we wish to be undisturbed. We'll go outside where we can look at the river."
Out the rear door of the cellar they entered a garden already awash with flowers that had been forced in the greenhouse, and they sat near a little fountain in which Japanese goldfish moved with wavering, translucent fins. The East River tide rushed past the lower fence, and the Fifty-ninth Street bridge filled a quarter of the sky with its huge arch.
As their waiter came bustling out, a window of the house squeaked up.
"Signore! A man to see you," called a maid from the window. "A Signor Chisholm."
"Send him here," called Ravenna. "Shall we ask Chisholm to lunch with us?" he added to Ryder.
"I'd rather be alone with you, Mike," answered David.
"Ay, it's better that way," said the Italian, laying the soft fat of his hand on Ryder's knee. "We begin to know each other. You have a whole continent of silence for me to explore, David, and you can see that I have a whole monkey world of noise for you to learn about."
Chisholm came out to them with his impatient step. When he sat down, it was only on the edge of his chair, with a fold of paper in one hand and a silver pencil in the other. As he talked, he made marks en the paper or drew designs rapidly in the air.
"This matter of the new will is a tragedy to you, Mr. Ryder," he said. "You have heard about it, Mr. Ravenna?"
"Not I," said Ravenna.
"But a very good thing for you," went on Chisholm. "Aside from a few legacies... but had there been trouble between you and Mr. Leggett recently, Mr. Ravenna?"
"Between us? Trouble?" muttered Ravenna, looking at the sky. "Why, no. We never had trouble between us."
"And none of your other mutual friends like Miss Sutherland or Mr. Brant... they had not had trouble with Mr. Leggett?"
"I can't tell about that. I think not. But there's the fact that John was suspicious of someone at the table last night. We can't forget that."
"The new will of Mr. Leggett has been stolen out of his desk," declared Chisholm. "I saw it put there myself, yesterday morning. It wiped out everything except a few legacies to servants and left the entire bulk of the estate to Mr. Ryder."
"The entire bulk? Why, David, you'll be one of the rich men of the world, eh?"
"The document is gone, Mr. Ravenna. With that out of the way, there only remains the preceding will, which was not destroyed and which is in the safe-deposit box at the bank. Do you know the terms of that?"
"I've no idea," said Ravenna.
"It's an interesting difference," said Chisholm. "The old will is very favorable to you, Mr. Ravenna."
"Good!" said Ravenna. "I'm no money-saver."
Chisholm began to stab the pencil in the air toward Ryder.
"There are four distant relatives. It took years to locate them. They are almost unknowns—fourth cousins and such matters. And in the old will you are grouped with them, Mr. Ryder, at only ten per cent of the entire estate apiece... a little difference of twenty-four or twenty-five million dollars to you, sir! While the other point is that Mr. Ravenna appears in the old will for forty per cent of the total fortune!"
They got rid of the calamitous Mr. Chester Chisholm, but not before he took them each by the arm and whispered: "The estate is not worth thirty millions. It comes nearer to forty!... The rumors of loss that Mr. Leggett spread from time to time were as a rule perfectly without foundation.... Mr. Ravenna.... Mr. Ryder... with such an immense fortune at stake, the loss of the most recent will points directly at—murder!... Mr. Ryder, I beg your pardon!"
"Ask Ravenna's pardon for talking about a thing like that," said Ryder. "He's the fellow who benefits most by the old will, so you can see for yourself that he must be the murderer"
"Good God!" cried the lawyer.
"Is Leslie Carton in the extant will?" asked Ryder.
"For two hundred and fifty thousand dollars!" exclaimed Chisholm. "A girl to my knowledge acquainted with Mr. Leggett not six months before her name was entered in..."
"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars!" said Ryder bitterly. "It was worth a girl's time to be a friend of my uncle, eh?... And what about the Countess Lalo?"
"For fifty thousand dollars, and a picture from the Venetian room!" said Chisholm.
"Not mentioned.... Yes, a legacy of twenty-five thousand only."
"Ah, yes. Seventy-five thousand to her."
"In short, Mr. Chisholm, was everybody at that dinner party remembered in the will of my uncle?" asked Ryder.
The lawyer glanced rather guiltily at Ravenna and then he added, slowly and almost secretly to Ryder: "The same thought has occurred to me. I can't tell why it hasn't occurred to the law. Everybody—every human being at that table, was enriched by the death of Mr. Leggett."
The lawyer left them, hurrying as though a gadfly were hunting him along. Ryder remained deep in thought.
"But, David," roared Ravenna, "you can't sit there quietly under a blow like this! You could have been one of the world's rich men..."
Ryder stopped him with a lifted hand. Ravenna said: "It's not the thinking about your uncle that takes you away into your thoughts and leaves you between smiling and groaning, David. Who is the woman?"
Ryder considered the fat man for a moment.
Then, faintly smiling, he said: "Are you to know everything, Mike?"
"Sooner or later, my boy," answered Ravenna cheerfully.
"I think that's true," said Ryder.
"All right," said Ravenna. "Who's entered your bloodstream?"
"Leslie Carton," said Ryder.
Ravenna bounced from his chair.
"Not Leslie Carton!" he cried. "Anyone rather than Leslie Carton! She's the..."
He stopped himself by striking his hand across his fat lips, and keeping it there while his eyes stared rather wildly.
"She's the what?" demanded Ryder.
"Nothing, David! Nothing!" groaned Ravenna. "I can't talk about her. 1 won't talk about her. You don't want me to talk about her, do you?"
Ryder wiped the fine sweat from his face.
"No. That's true," he said. "I don't want to hear rotten things about her. I'm only asking you this: Do you know something about her?... No, don't answer that, either."
Ravenna went to him and put his big hands on the shoulders of Ryder.
"It's love, eh? The real thing?"
"Yes," said Mr. Ryder. "I'm afraid it is."
"Ah, what a hot hell that is to burn in!" sighed Ravenna. "Poor David! It makes you pale and sick to think of her. Must you have her?"
"If I can," said Ryder.
"Does that mean that you will? When I see the set of your jaw, I'm afraid that it does. In that case, I must help you?"
"No," answered Ryder. "Help from you in anything else, but not about Leslie. I love her, Mike, but I think I'm going to put her in the electric chair—and buckle the straps—and close the switch."
IT was the evening of that day Ryder sat down with six typewritten sheets of paper which checked the movements of each of the women who had attended the dinner the night before. Sydney Galloway had remained in her rooms without leaving them once. Eileen Durante, after practicing scales a long time in the morning, had gone to the house of Ravenna. Elspeth Claussen went shopping....
It was all as inconsequential as that.
He broke open a note from Ravenna. It said, briefly:
There's no doubt that Chester A. Chisholm has the correct information about the last will and the whole estate really should be yours.... As you saw in my house, David, I'm a fellow who likes good living on a fairly gross scale but what would I do with my share of all those millions except be hounded to death by hungry devils begging for help? Let the beggars come to you, David. When the will is settled, I shall pass over my forty per cent to the man who ought to have it: yourself. Then I think you ought to be big-hearted and give me a handsome gift, so that my friends never will find my ice-room empty.
Aff'ly y'rs, Mike.
Ryder sent back by special messenger a note that said:
My dear Mike,
Unless the last will is found, it doesn't exist in the eyes of the law. So it doesn't exist in my eyes, either. After all, my ten per cent is enough to set me up for life, even after the inheritance taxes cut my throat. I don't want your money. I want your help to run down the murderer.
MARTIN announced Hans Seelig and Ryder saw him at once. The private investigator folded his hands across the round of his stomach and said: "I took the chief point myself... that's Miss Leslie Carton. I think you'd like to see where she is now and who she's with. Can you come?"
"I'll come," said Ryder and went out at once with the detective. Mr. Hans Seelig was silent for a time. Then he said: "You have no personal interest in Miss Carton, of course?"
"I've only seen her twice," said Ryder.
"Well, it may interest you to learn that Miss Leslie Carton is now sitting in a cheap Italian restaurant—hardly a restaurant so much as a gathering place for the half-criminal Italian elements of the town; and with her there is a low-caste Italian capable of anything in the world!"
"She went there of her free will?" demanded Ryder.
"She could have gone there in no other way. Now the question is: Did she go there with Mr. Gonelli with some hidden purpose in her mind? Is there something that she wishes to get from him? Or has mere social consciousness placed her there?"
They had passed across town to the verge of the East River. The cool breath of the sea was in the air when the car drew up at the curb across the street from "Tony's."
"They are in there," said Mr. Seelig. "Elia Gonelli and beautiful Miss Carton. If I were you, I would study them with some care, while remaining unseen."
"Why couldn't you study them for me?" asked Ryder.
"The truth is," said Seelig, "that Mr. Gonelli knows so much about his New York that he would be sure to recognize either me or any of my assistants. Shall I wait here and see that no harm comes to you, Mr. Ryder?"
"What sort of harm?" asked Ryder.
"Well, Italians are excitable people, Mr. Ryder. And they hold closely together. If Mr. Gonelli grew alarmed, who can say how many knives would jump on his account?"
"I think I'll take my own chances," said Ryder, and went into the restaurant.
It was true Italian. That is to say, at any given moment there was always one voice raised in laughter, one voice raised in anger. Steam from the open kitchen soured the walls with damp; the floors were dirtier still. A bar faced the kitchen and Ryder stopped there for a vermouth. With the glass, he stepped back from the bar and looked into the dining room. Along the rear wall, partitions fenced the tables on two sides and in an alcove toward the right, with her back to the room, sat Leslie Carton. He knew her not by the brightness of her hair, not by the gown of black lace in which she was dressed, but by something about her back, her neck, the carriage of her head, all fitting that picture of her which was so clear in his mind.
Opposite her sat a handsome brute of an Italian in his shirt sleeves; and the shirt was an affair of pink stripes!
He finished his vermouth quickly, because he needed it, and then went back to the alcove on the left of Leslie Carton. She and her companion were too close in talk to lift their eyes toward him. A waiter brought ripe olives and celery; he indicated his choices on the menu with his thumb and asked for red wine very quietly, for those flimsy partitions permitted voices to pass as freely as the empty air.
That was why he could hear Elia Gonelli saying: "... there it is with more than a hundred dollars on the table and Alfredo says: 'Ah, my God, to think of this in lire!' I throw. Eight is my point. I throw and throw. No seven. No eleven. A five. A ten. And then eight! I sweep in the money. Alfredo screams out. He screams so loudly that for a moment he cannot move his hands but I see in his eyes what is coming and when he snatches out a knife, I have mine ready and put the point at his belly. He says: 'Shall I let myself be killed for the sake of killing you? All the devils that live in dice, may they walk over your brain when you sleep at night!' And he takes himself away!"
Gonelli broke into strong laughter and with his voice joined the mirth of Leslie Carton. The flesh of Ryder crawled.
"You like me pretty good, eh?" said Gonelli.
"Of course I like you, Elia," said the girl.
"You tell me why," he drawled.
"Well, because you have a scar on your chin, and a scar on your cheek, and a scar on your forehead," she said, laughing again, and the husky sweetness of her voice blew like a melancholy wind through the open soul of Ryder.
"You like a man when he fights big, he fights strong, eh?" said Gonelli.
"Of course I do," said Leslie Carton. "Tell me about your scars, Elia."
"One is a man, one is a woman, and one is a boy.... Sicilianos, when they pray they ask God to make the knife sharp. He stab me in the right arm, my knife falls down. He stab for the face and the point of the knife sticks in the bone of my forehead. Dio Santo! What can Elia do? He can kick, and that is enough!... Hai! How he screamed on the floor, and how I still kicked him!... Then there was the boy that threw the stone that hit me here. When I catch him, I take him by the leg, fast, three blocks till his face is almost rubbed out.... But the woman. Ah, well, that was just a little thing."
"Tell me about her, Elia."
"You little bit jealous, maybe?"
"A little bit," said Leslie Carton.
Elia Gonelli laughed loudly. Small electric currents darted up the face of Ryder and shot out at the roots of his hair.
"She was one pretty thing," said Gonelli. "You tell me why the pretty girls she like Gonelli so much?"
"Because you have such nice brown eyes, Elia," said the girl. "And because you're so bad."
"I AM not very bad. Oh, no!" said Gonelli, laughing.
Leslie Carton laughed, also.
"That girl who lived in the same room I have, she liked you, too, Elia, didn't she?" asked Leslie Carton.
"She begin to like Elia," he answered. "H-m-m! Yes. Pretty much. But too quick she has gone away. You, cara, you will not be gone away too quick?"
"Why should I go away?" asked Leslie Carton.
"Dorrie was one pretty thing with smiling and smiling and smiling," said Gonelli. "Dio mio, I feel her smiling now, behind my eyes, in my brain. Here—wait—there is her picture."
Even the rustling of the paper was audible. Ryder picked at his food to make a confusion on his plate. He could not eat. The acrid red wine went down his throat like bitter water, without strength.
"It's a newspaper picture of her, isn't it?" asked Leslie Carton. "Out of a Sunday supplement? Was she as well known as that?"
"No, but to see her once is to wish to have the picture for remembering. See how she runs through her dance. So! Like a boy she is running. The picture was taken at Francisco's when she was on the stage. She has no fat hips that go joggle, joggle! To see her is like singing in your throat. It is to laugh and be young.... Who is that girl? you say. You take all the rest. I will choose her...."
"She'll come back. You'll surely see her again, Elia."
"No, never again," said Elia, heavily.
"Why do you think not?"
"Never again," said Elia.
"But lots of girls disappear for a while and come to life again," insisted Leslie Carton.
"Listen!" said Gonelli. "When she is gone, she is gone! She will not come again. God give us pity! Never again!... Now what you think? You look very funny. Are you sick?"
"There's no air in here," said Leslie Carton. "That's all. I think I want to leave this place."
"Why not?" asked the gallant Gonelli. "Sure we leave here right now. You wait a minute and I come right back."
His chair pushed back and his step departed. A moment later Leslie Carton passed slowly by the booth of Ryder with a white face. He jumped up and touched her arm.
"Do you want to wait for the Italian? Shall I take you out?" he asked.
"Yes, quickly," she whispered.
He left five dollars in the waiter's hand as he took her out to the sidewalk and into the first taxicab. The proprietor came running and jerked open the door of the car.
"This is no kind of thing!" he cried. "Suppose that Mr. Gonelli asks me where...?"
Ryder counted out five-dollar bills, four of them, and held them out.
"If she went back to the ladies' room, how can you know what became of her?" asked Ryder.
"Gonelli—how he will curse!"
"And how sorry you will be, eh? Hurry back and tell the waiters they haven't seen her go out."
"Signore, I see you are a man who understands. Goodby, sir... On Thursday nights there are ravioli...."
"Drive on, anywhere," ordered Ryder of the driver. The car slipped off into the push of the traffic.
As she lay back against the seat with her head canted a little to one side, he could hear her panting and he watched her eyes close and open and close again. She was fighting like a man, silently, to recover. He twisted his hat into a fan and worked a current of air against her face. The pitching of the car swayed her head to one side, against his shoulder. He put his arm around the limpness of her body and with his other hand steadied her head against his shoulder. The nausea was still in her face and the sick dullness in her eyes. She looked so like a helpless child that Ryder kissed her, and with a vague joy and disgust felt her respond. Her eyes were closed, her lips slightly pursed, and he kissed her mouth again, before she sat up. She leaned forward a little and he withdrew his arm. Almost in an instant she had established between them as much distance as ever existed. It was as though she had taken from him that strength which was necessary—as though she were familiar with this prescription. The second thought poured a cold loathing through him.
He decided to ask his question now, no matter what the shock of it did to her.
"It wasn't Dorrie's name that upset you?" he asked.
"Dorrie? Dorrie Innis?" she repeated rather sharply. "What in the world is she to me?"
"I'm living in the room she used to have; and the poor girl disappeared; maybe it was the thought of her that stifled me.... Why did you follow me to Tony's?"
"Because I thought you might need me."
"Yes...when I saw you with a thug like that Gonelli...."
"He's really not a thug at all."
"No, in spite of his bad English. We'd all be clumsier than that in his own Italian, I suppose."
"He seems all right?"
"He's very unusual. I never met a man like him."
"He's a fine, handsome fellow," said Ryder, remembering the brutal mouth and the lechery in the eyes.
"Isn't he good-looking!" said Leslie Carton, with enthusiasm.
He looked down at her, amazed; and some of the words of Hans Seelig returned unpleasantly to his mind.
"Do you know what he is?" he asked.
"In part, only."
"He's a third-rate thug with the morals of a tomcat."
"I wonder if he is, though?" mused Leslie Carton, her head a little to one side, her lips smiling.
"Does he interest you, really, or was it just a game of some sort?" asked Ryder.
"Why in the world should I play a game?" she wanted to know.
Ryder made no answer. After a time, he said, "Where do you want to go?"
"I'll take another cab presently. You won't be going my way."
"I'll take you where you want."
"No, I'd rather you didn't."
They turned through a crowded street, for the warmth of the night brought a crowd onto the pavement. On Second Avenue the car turned south.
"Here!" she called out suddenly. "I'll stop here!"
At the corner he helped her out.
"You've been frightfully kind," said she. "Will you do a last thing for me?"
"I suppose so," said Ryder.
"Then don't wait to see where I go."
"Very well," he said.
"Goodby, Mr. Ryder, and thank you again!"
He let her go and climbed back into the cab.
"Kind of a funny thing, ain't it?" asked the driver. "I mean, the way you pick 'em up, and the way they throw you out!"
When he got back to the penthouse, he found Mr. Seelig waiting for him.
"I had to know," said Seelig. "Was it good? Wouldn't she talk in the taxicab?"
"How did you know that I was in a cab with her?"
"Why, Mr. Ryder, we are watching her day and night. D'you think that I'd trust untrained eyes like yours to keep track of her? I've been enjoying a few reports on the telephone, here,"
"You have a man watching her right now?" he asked.
"Right now. Yes, sir."
"Good!" said Ryder.
He got Ravenna on the telephone.
"You know Leslie Carton fairly well, do you?" he asked.
"Of course I do!" said Ravenna.
"You might do her a favor, Mike. Tell her that a certain Elia Gonelli is a tramp and a crook and a strong-arm man, will you?"
"This instant!" said Ravenna. "What's more—he is what you say."
Ryder hung up and turned to Hans Seelig. He took from his pocket the golden angel with the enameled wings.
"Look it over," he directed.
Hans Seelig, looking at the work with his naked eye, smiled with pleasure. He took a little enlarging glass from his pocket and examined the jewel again.
Then he grunted: "It is not very much, Mr. Ryder."
"Could stuff like that be made up in New York?" asked Ryder.
"Oh, very easily," said Seelig. "It has only the look of Egypt. But the spirit... ah, the spirit is not so easily made, Mr. Ryder!"
"I want you to get at the personal belongings of every one of the six women who were at the dinner the other night," said Ryder. "Five of them will have figures like this. One of 'em won't. I want the name of the one who lacks it.... And one more thing: Bear down harder on Leslie Carton."
"Are you sure you want that? Are you sure that such a pressure would not be painful?"
"I want the truth," said Ryder. "I've got to have it."
"Are you sure, Mr. Ryder?" murmured Seelig. "Can any of us endure the full truth, even about ourselves?"
"I'll have this job done the way I want it," said Ryder. "Bear down!"
"Yes," said Seelig. "On her; on them all."
Before he went to bed, Ryder put on either side of it, along the floor, a few pages of newspaper; when he was lying down he rang Seelig.
He asked: "After she left my cab, did you find out where Miss Carton went? Was your man able to tell you that?"
"There was one of our little misfortunes!" said Seelig. "For my man watched her go straight into the crowd and down the steps into a secondhand shop, of the sort that are open at night. But when he followed she was gone!"
"She'd gone on into the inside of the shop?" cried Ryder.
"My dear Mr. Ryder, there was no inside to the shop."
"Then what the devil happened to her?"
"I fear it is too simple! She walked down the left-hand flight of steps and up the right-hand flight, and by the time my man realized what had happened the crowd was all in between."
"It's too darned bad!" said Ryder.
"It is so bad," said Seelig, "that I have discharged with good curses the swine-hound of a fool who was working for me there!"
Gradually sleep came down on Ryder like a soft, dark rain, and his last thoughts were not of John James Leggett nor of beautiful Leslie Carton, nor of the brutally handsome face of Gonelli. They were of the rosy face of Mike Ravenna, and how the spaghetti had turned on the fork against the hollow of the spoon, gathering the dripping sheaf into a tight spool which could be flipped whole into the mouth.
He began to see that in Ravenna there was a superior culture, not with the complacent arrogance of a Hans Seelig but a real understanding of life and all its savors. The death of Leggett had subtracted more from Ravenna than from any other person in the world, and yet fat Mike could sit at the table with a marvelous appetite, and laugh and sing like a child too young to know what death may be. That brown face with the wine-red in the cheeks shone last of all, like a harvest moon, on the mind of Ryder, before he slept.
WHEN he wakened again, the moonlight had reached the foot of the bed on the left, but the darkness seemed to have thickened on the opposite side. Something on the floor had rustled; one of the papers he had laid there. When he stared he saw, gradually, the outline of a man's figure. It was withdrawing soundlessly.
Ryder began to breathe heavily, regularly; and through his veiling eyelashes he watched the form return with silent feet once more. The glimmer that it held in one hand turned gradually into the complete outline of an automatic. That was the target for which Ryder kicked, gripping the edges of the bed and driving hard with his heel.
The boom of the gunshot knocked his thoughts into a vast whirl, like dust after an explosion, but he reached the figure that was twisting up off the floor. He reached it with a strangle-hold that turned the body limp in an instant. Then he recognized in the dimness the face of Martin.
He got up, the gun in his hand, and stood looking at the valet at his feet. Footfalls pounded in the hall. A hand banged on the door. Gains shouted: "Mr. Ryder!"
"All right, Gains!" called Ryder.
He turned on the light and went to the door. After an instant he opened it. Gains was there with a gun in his hand.
"Go back to bed. Gains," said Ryder.
"Yes, sir," said Gains.
Ryder closed and locked the door.
Martin stood in the center of the room. He was dressed in pajamas of blue silk, laundry-faded, worn at the buttonholes. The pillow had rumpled his hair on both sides of his head.
"Was it just an idea?" asked Ryder. "Or had you been thinking about it?"
Martin said nothing. Ryder began to walk up and down the floor. When he paused, he said:
"I knew there was murder in you when I first laid eyes on you. But I didn't think it would be my murder. Any other person behind this?"
The pale eyes of Martin regarded him steadily, but his jaws were locked.
"The will gives you a legacy," said Ryder. "You knew that?"
He was surprised to hear Martin answer: "Yes, sir."
"But you haven't any ready cash?"
"My wallet's over there on the table. Take a hundred from it and get out of New York."
Martin ran the red tip of his tongue over his lips.
"I said: 'Get out!' You understand?"
"Move then. I don't want to look at you."
"No, sir," said Martin, without moving.
"What the devil's the matter with you?" demanded Ryder. "What do you want?"
The lips of Martin moved soundlessly. He took a breath but still the words could not be uttered.
"That first day, you hated me, didn't you?" asked Ryder.
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"You wanted to cut my throat on the spot, eh?"
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"You've been planning to do it ever since?"
"I'm glad of that, because I didn't think so. Well, have you got hold of yourself?"
"I think you'd better carry on here."
"Sir?" said Martin, jerked erect and shuddering by the last words.
"I think you'd better stay on with me," said Ryder.
Martin rubbed a hand across his eyes.
"Well?" demanded Ryder, sharply.
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"I think you were in a jam for money, and this was your way out, wasn't it?"
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"Who was willing to pay you?" asked Ryder.
Martin had no answer for that.
"How much are you in the hole?" asked Ryder.
"Eight hundred dollars, sir."
"And how much was the killing of me worth?"
"Ten thousand dollars, sir."
"Ten thousand? That's a good spot of cash."
"Well, go on to bed. Call me at eight in the morning, will you?"
When Martin got to the door he remained for a time with his hand on the knob, his head gradually sinking. Ryder went to him and put a hard grip on his arm.
"Well, what of it?" said Ryder. "I knew that you had it in you long ago. But now we've let the cat out of you and it won't come back."
"Monsieur, do you see what I would have done? I would have killed Monsieur Leggett's body and blood if I had killed you. What you've just said shows me that. But I would have laid the gun against your head and pulled the trigger!"
"And put the butt into my hand afterward?"
The valet drew a wallet from inside his coat and pulled from it a little sheaf of papers, most of them charred at the edges. He laid them in the hand of Ryder, who read on the top slip:
"IOU $1,500...Eric Claussen."
The other bits of paper were the same in nature. On some, fire had burned away the signature or the sum due.
"Claussen, eh?" said Ryder. "You did find something on the roof below that window?"
"When I saw what I had in my hand," said Martin, "I thought I had Claussen inside my fingers. I laughed and I laughed. And when I showed the scraps of paper to him, he groaned. He swore that he would pay a great deal of money. I never would have to work again. But first he wanted you gone. You had seen him come like a burglar at night. You could ruin him.... So I promised!" concluded Martin.
"I'll have to see him," said Ryder.
"No! The son of a dog--I shall see him in the morning."
"If you do that, they'll hang you. And I'll tell you what, Martin, I'd rather have you around and Claussen after my scalp than the pair of you dead or jailed. Eight hundred is what you owe?"
"We'll attend to that."
"My God, sir, that would be paying the devil inside me!"
"Go to bed, Martin."
"There is another thing I have not talked about," said Martin. "There is Daley—the man who came to see Mr. Leggett in his office, that night. I knew him, Monsieur."
"You knew what about him?"
"He was an old one. Pickpocket. Then a thief. Then bootlegging. When he got out of prison a little while ago he came to see me and said that his people had let him down, Monsieur. He would not say much, but only that he had been double-crossed. And if he could see Mr. Leggett, he would point out someone who was sucking his blood. He had such a hate in his face that I believed him, so I spoke to Mr. Leggett, and that was why Daley came that night to the study. God knows what harm I caused by letting such a dog into the house!"
"Martin, you'll do more good than harm, before the end."
"Monsieur, when I see how you trust me, after the things I have done...."
"Martin, go to bed."
"Yes—to bed. Yes, Monsieur."
Martin moved like a slow old man through the doorway and was gone, and Ryder, slipping back into bed, was asleep before his body had warmed the sheets.
JIMMY HICKEY kept by his bed a portfolio filled with recent correspondence and when he wakened in the morning his first gesture was to take up a handful of the letters. Most of them were tinted envelopes; a great many carried some trace of perfume; so that Jimmy Hickey had the habit of lying back among his pillows with eyes closed and selecting the items only by the sense of smell.
In the meantime he had rung for his valet, who brought him a strong cup of English breakfast tea, and with the first hot, clean, pungent sip of it, Hickey began to read the letters. They came, nearly always, from frightened women. Some spoke indignantly; others pleaded; still more rejoiced because one of his arrows had struck another reputation and with additional information added sharpness and barbs for his next shot. He had gathered into his hands invisible wires which touched the fear and the malice of many hearts so that electric responses flowed continually in to him.
On some of the letters he made notations, for he could see his day's column filling without effort on his part. Discards he dropped on the floor, where his valet would pick them up and read them later at his own degenerate, secondhand pleasure.
When he had extracted from his mail enough to make his column, he cast aside the rest of the letters, bathed, and dressed as quickly as possible to cover his scrawny body from his own eyes. Afterward he went out into the park for a constitutional; the sight of the trees and the children made him feel a bigger man. He was coming to the reservoir when a tall young man with an athlete's springing stride made up to him. He felt the deathless pang of envy first; then he recognized David Ryder.
"That column of yours the other day," said Ryder, falling in beside him, "about Brant and the air-mail envelope...I wondered what you meant by that."
As they walked on, Jimmy Hickey took Ryder confidentially by the arm. Under his finger tips he felt the long, rubbery muscles.
"They're your men, are they?" asked Hickey.
"The fellows who have been shadowing me; the fellows who told you where I headed this morning, and at what time."
"You've been shadowed, have you?" asked Ryder. "Well, a lot of people have to be interested in you, Hickey.... But I was asking about that air-mail envelope."
"Oh, yes; the one that Porter Brant was clutching to his heart. Well, what about it?"
"There's no point unless he had the envelope at the end of the evening but not at the beginning," suggested Ryder.
"If he'd had it in his pocket all the time, would I have mentioned the thing at all?" asked Hickey.
"No, I don't suppose you would. I was just checking. Thanks very much."
"Don't leave me like this, Ryder. Are you shadowing all the people who were present the night of your uncle's demise? There ought to be a lot of things you could give me for my column."
"Ah, but I know you, Hickey," said Ryder. "I know that you wouldn't put anything in your column unless you had express permission to do so."
"Certainly not. You respect the dignity of the press too much to do such things."
"Lend me your eyes, Ryder," said Hickey; "I begin to see myself clearly for the first time. I respect the dignity of the press too much, do I?"
"Certainly you do. You have a quick imagination but you wouldn't use it for the world. For instance, I meet you in the park; you feel you've been shadowed; you're sure that I've got in touch with you through a spy. But that's a thing you wouldn't print in your column."
Ryder stopped and looked him in the eye.
"Nothing could induce you to," said Ryder.
The little man moistened his lips. He found it difficult to swallow as he looked into the gray-green eyes of Ryder. But at last he murmured: "Perhaps you're right."
"Certainly I'm right," said Ryder. "I can't afford to be wrong."
And he went off with his long, swinging step.
Jimmy Hickey lost interest in his walk. He had thought of something else much more to his taste and went back to his apartment so quickly that he found his valet on the living-room couch with his lap full of his master's correspondence. He clutched the papers to him like a guilty secret as he jumped to his feet.
Hickey said: "I've known for years that you read that filth; but if I catch you at it again you're out of a job."
At the telephone he rang Porter Brant.
The producing director of "He Loves Me Not" reclined in a silk robe on the davenport, slowly puffing at his pipe and permitting thought to stain slightly the pure bronze of his forehead. He had beside him paper and half a dozen pens and pencils convenient to jot down the ideas which might fly within the horizon of his mind. Sydney Galloway, at the farther end of the big room, lightly touched on the piano Grieg's "Solitary Wanderer," for Porter Brant found that the chilly melancholies of that composer inspired him to some of his most delicate effects in pictures.
"The telephone, Sydney," said Brant. "I think I hear it."
She left the piano and hurried to the telephone in the hall. After a moment she returned to the doorway, saying: "It's that Jimmy Hickey beast. I'll tell him that you're out. It was only something about an air-mail envelope, I think...."
"A what?" cried Porter Brant. "Wait a minute... leave the room, Syd!"
She disappeared as he picked up the telephone beside him.
"Hello, Jimmy!" he called.
"Sorry to take you out of your clouds Porter," said the snarl of Jimmy Hickey "Just that bit about the air-mail envelope."
"I don't know what it all means, Jimmy," said Brant.
"Of course you don't. Neither do I. That's what makes it so queer that people should be interested just because I saw an air-mail envelope in your inside coat pocket the other night."
"I don't remember it at all," cried Brant.
"How could you remember it when you have so many other things to do and think about?" asked Hickey. "The point is that young David Ryder attaches a lot of importance to the letter in your pocket."
"Ryder?" echoed Brant.
"The dead man's nephew, Porter," said Hickey.
"Ah, yes. A young man without any distinctive color whatever," said Brant. "I simply can't be interested in these lads who have no essential life of the spirit, you know."
"Of course you can't," sneered Hickey. "But he doesn't seem to mind. He has a lot of interest in you."
"I don't understand you, Jimmy."
"You four-flusher," said Hickey, "get back to earth and listen to me. Young Ryder thinks you murdered his uncle!"
"Murder? It was suicide, Jimmy!"
"Not to Ryder. He says that that air-mail envelope wasn't in your pocket at the beginning of the evening. How did it come there later on? Because you'd been in the study of John James Leggett. Why were you there? For murder, Porter! For murder!"
"What earthly motive...?" shouted Porter Brant.
"Why, I suppose he knew that Leggett had been fool enough to support some of your lousy pictures with hard cash; and where there's money owing, there's always murder in the air. Good-by!"
"Wait! Hold on!" cried Porter Brant.
But the dead hum of the wire told him that Hickey had hung up and slowly he replaced his own telephone.
"Sydney!" he called.
She appeared in the doorway.
"Open a half bottle of champagne, dear," said Brant. "I've had a slight shock. I need a stimulant."
Instead of going to the pantry, she walked deliberately across the floor toward him.
"Did you hear me?" he demanded angrily.
She sat down on the arm of the big davenport at his feet. A draft from the open hall door set the Chinese silk of her pajamas a- tremble.
"Darling, you are such a coward!" she said.
"I? A coward?" cried Porter Brant, sitting up suddenly.
"Lie down again," said Sydney Galloway.
He stood up, wrapped his robe about him, and frowned down at her.
"I see that this is the end!" he stated.
"Don't be dramatic," said the girl. "I couldn't stand it if you were dramatic just now.... Just at this moment I don't give a darn for your sensitive soul and your beautiful brow. Porter."
"This is the reward—" he began.
"For throwing myself at your feet and letting you walk on me all these months," she interrupted. "But I heard you mention Ryder over the phone just now... If he's the one you're afraid of, I don't blame you for turning white."
"What are you talking about?" cried Porter Brant. "What do you think I...."
"Ah, how I despise you," said the girl softly. "Don't attempt to rage and storm.... And I suppose I'll come back to you before the day's over the way poor fools come back to their drug.... But when I think of David Ryder...why, I pity you. Porter. Don't start shouting at me. If young Ryder is after you, I'd get right out of town. Porter, as fast as airplanes can fly.... Let me get that champagne and we'll drink to the bon voyage."
RYDER, with the Hickey interview behind him, went uptown to the hotel on Central Park West where Claussen lived. When he telephoned up, the voice of Elspeth Claussen said: "Oh—it's you?... Oh..."
"Can I see your husband?" he asked.
"I'm afraid not. He's terribly busy," she answered hastily.
"You just tell him that I want to see him, will you?" asked Ryder.
There was a pause during which, perhaps, she could have asked a question and had an answer from another person in the room, but Ryder preferred to guess that she was using that interval for a bit of silent thinking.
She said: "Are you alone?"
"I'm all alone," said Ryder.
"Well, Eric will see you," said the girl.
When he got up to the rooms, Elspeth Claussen opened the door. She had on riding clothes but they did not make her seem narrow- shouldered or heavy in the hips. The morning sun filled the eastern windows of the room with brilliance.
"I'm terribly sorry," she said. "When I spoke to Eric he said that he simply couldn't drag himself away from his work. He's doing the daily dope sheet, you know. If he stops in the middle, the figures get all mixed up."
"Go back to Eric and tell him that I've just been having a little chat with Martin, will you?" asked Ryder.
He saw the words strike into her and come out guiltily through her eyes again. She had had some of the glow of a Leslie Carton until that moment; now this morning light left her. She kept watching him for two or three very long seconds.
"All right... I'll talk to him," she said, backing up a step.
He walked right in past her and tossed his hat onto a chair.
"Don't talk to him. Just open a door and call to him," said Ryder.
She went to the door on the opposite side of the room and hesitated, her hand on the glass knob.
"I haven't a gun with me," said Ryder.
To this singular remark she said nothing, but her eyes centered on his hands, and then on his shoulder. She was adding up things and arriving at a total.
"I won't use my hands on him, either," said Ryder.
"Don't—" she began; but then she set her teeth and the words strained away through them into a sort of groan. She jerked the door open.
"Eric, he's been talking with Martin and he says he has something important to tell you."
"I told you—" began the angry shout of Claussen from the next room.
His voice stopped short. He had bumped against something in her glance that checked his speech. The silence between the girl and her unseen husband continued until it seemed to enlarge the moment. Ryder began to feel the pulsation of his heart.
After a time the girl stepped back from the doorway and Claussen came through it in riding trousers and shirt-sleeves that were rolled up to his elbows. He wore a long, dark-green eyeshade. His trousers pulled down a little in front of the right hip, for something heavy and rather bulky was in the pocket.
Ryder looked steadily at that pocket as he said good morning. Claussen answered: "Well, what is it?"
"In my mind or in your pocket?" asked Ryder, smiling.
Claussen straightened himself. He was big and there was a lot of quality in the muscles that dressed his forearms.
"What sort of a way of talking is this?" he demanded.
"Eric!" called the girl.
"I'm not going to take anything from you," said Claussen. "I don't have to take anything, and I'm not going to. You can't come here and—"
"Eric!" broke in Elspeth Claussen.
She couldn't stop him. A lot of mad dog was getting into his face and he was letting it run; he was encouraging the hysteria to sweep him along. He kept making half-steps toward Ryder.
"Let him talk," said Ryder. "I don't mind."
He moved up a good long stride, so that he was within arm's length of the gambler.
"Now, don't make any move toward that gun," said Ryder. "Don't get so excited that you forget how fast a bare fist can connect."
He centered his attention on the bruised spot near the end of Claussen's chin. Claussen moved back a step. Ryder followed him.
"Eric, he only wants to talk!" cried Elspeth. "Listen to him!"
"We're all right," said Ryder. "We're going to get along together very well."
The mouth of Claussen no longer twitched with that beastly excitement. His face began to turn to a dirty green-tan as fear clotted his blood stream.
"You'd better leave the room," said Ryder to the girl.
"You stay here!" called Claussen.
"I'll stay right here," said the girl.
"Well, you probably know everything, anyway," said Ryder. "Mind moving around so that I can have you and Eric in one grasp of my eye?"
She came up beside Claussen and slipped her hand inside his right elbow.
"Don't do that!" protested Claussen, trying to shake her off.
"Be quiet, Eric," she commanded.
Eric was quiet.
"After I saw Martin," said Ryder, "I had a talking-point. A fifty-thousand-dollar talking-point. Do you understand that?"
"I don't understand anything," said Claussen loudly.
"I'll explain a little," said Ryder. "There was an accident at my place. In the night a gun went off. But nobody was hurt. Martin, somehow, seemed to have lost ten thousand dollars; and afterward he and I had a chat... How much do you know about all this, Elspeth?"
She was staring up into the face of Claussen and breathing hard.
"Did you?" she asked. "Did you?"
"Go on into the other room!" commanded Claussen. "I don't need you in here any more."
Instead of leaving, she took a harder grip on her husband's arm.
"I guess I know everything now," she said. "Talk right ahead."
"I'm going to do the listening, not the talking," said Ryder. "I expect the talking from you two. Fifty thousand dollars' worth of it. Do I get it?"
The glance of Claussen broke away from the face of Ryder and wavered down toward his wife but she gave him no support for the moment. She was staring fixedly at the guest.
Ryder explained: "With Martin for a witness, I can make a charge of burglary, assault with intent to kill, and the theft of this stuff."
He took a sheaf of paper from his coat pocket and fluttered the burned edges of the sheets in the air.
"When you dropped this stuff out of the window," he said, "it didn't go on burning. It fell in a lump and wedged between a water pipe and the wall so tight that the fire was put out. That's where you had rotten luck. Now, Eric, you can buy this paper back from me. I know you haven't got the cash but you can pay me by telling me what you know about the murder of my uncle."
"Murder?" breathed Elspeth Claussen.
Eric Claussen gaped. Then he said:
"Hickey did it!"
"Go on," said Ryder.
"Hickey did it," repeated Claussen. "He owed money to Leggett. Hickey did it.
"I could tell from his column—the way he tried to scatter suspicion on everybody at the party. He was trying to cover himself...."
"Is that your only reason?" asked Ryder. "Is that all you know?"
"I thought Hickey seemed upset and I saw him..."
"Eric, you're lying, and David knows you're lying," interrupted the girl.
Claussen said: "Ah, my God, what can I do?"
"Tell the truth," said Ryder.
"I don't know. If it wasn't suicide, then I don't know!" groaned Claussen.
Ryder turned his back and walked slowly across the room. A big ash-bowl with a pipe hooked over the edge of it stood on the table with a cigarette lighter at hand.
Behind him he heard a rustling of clothes, the sudden, gasping whisper of Elspeth Claussen as she said: "Eric! No, no! Eric!"
Ryder picked up the lighter. The wheel of it spun under his thumb without friction. He gave the screw a turn to bring the flint against the steel. The next time the wick caught fire and he touched the flame to his handful of notes.
"Do you see? Do you see?" cried Elspeth.
"Yeah. But somebody's crazy!" said Claussen. "What are you doing, David?"
Ryder dropped the flaming mass of notes into the ash-bowl. Claussen came up and leaned both hands on the table edge and stared into the smoke and fire.
Ryder said: "I could have used this stuff to hang you, Eric. But since I begin to feel that you had no hand in the killing of my uncle, I won't dirty his memory by dragging his charities into a law court. I guess that's all. Goodby."
When he reached the door, Elspeth Claussen blocked his way.
"It isn't all," she said. "Don't walk out on us like this. You've given us a hand-up out of the gutter. Please sit down a minute and talk, will you?"
"You're fond of him, Elspeth," said Ryder.
"Yes," she nodded.
"You're a gritty one," said Ryder. "He ought to thank God for you every day of his life. Goodby."
The maid held up the mass of roses so that the red blossoms showered over the curve of her arm; then she smiled at Leslie Carton with confiding eyes.
"Flowers make a queer sort of a happiness, don't they?" she asked. "Kind of down deep. As deep as you can breathe the smell of them, and deeper, too."
"Take part of them and put them in your own room," said Leslie.
"Take some of these lovely things?" cried the maid. "What would I do with them in the room except dream all night through of ritzing around the world with swells? No, Miss Carton, you better have them all. Or are they the right flowers from the wrong man, then?"
Leslie Carton shook her head and smiled.
"You take a good big double handful of them," she directed. "And I hope they give you happy dreams, too."
The maid picked up some of the roses and, laughing, left the room. When she had gone Leslie Carton picked up the note which had accompanied the flowers. It said:
I've tried phoning, but you're always out. I'm sending these flowers along to remind you that I want to be with you whenever you have a chance to see me. Or when you stopped me and started me going the opposite way, was that a permanent direction?
Afterward, she took her pen and a bit of note paper, but every beginning she made seemed inadequate, for she kept re-seeing that grim, almost ugly face, which was so easily remembered.
She went to the telephone at last and called him.
"I have the flowers and they're beautiful," she said. "They're over by the window with the sun on them. Thank you, David... I do want to see you."
"Today?" he asked.
She waited while the vibration of his voice passed gradually through her.
"I don't think today," she said. "But soon."
"You're in trouble," he stated. "You were in trouble the other day in the park. Why don't you accept help? My help, I mean."
"Ah, but you're the last..."
She stopped herself.
"I'm the last man who could help you?" demanded Ryder. "What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing. Don't pay any attention. I'm nervous. That's all. The New York racket and roar... you know."
"You'd be calm in a hurricane at sea," said Ryder. "Don't tell me that you're nervous."
"I am, though. I think I'm being followed on the street! I'm being shadowed... unless that seems too absurd."
"It's not absurd. I'm paying the men who shadow you."
"If you get into a place like Tony's again, I want to know about it. I want to find out about a lot of things concerning you."
"David, that's ruthless and not..."
"Not gentlemanly? I'm not going to be gentlemanly. Nobody knows anything about you. There's no back trail to your life, apparently. But I'm going to find out whether you'll talk or not talk. There's only one way to stop me. That's to say; 'David, I never want to see you again; I'm through with you.' "
Her eyes closed. She gripped the phone hard. Then she said: "David, I don't want to see you again!"
The silence lasted; the monotonous humming possessed the wire; then the receiver at the farther end crashed.
On the way downtown, Ryder stopped to see Seelig and found Martin there. There was no exciting news. But Elspeth Claussen and the Countess Lalo had made a morning call on Marene Sutherland.
"Watch Porter Brant with both eyes," directed Ryder. "And have your men show a trifle more care. Jimmy Hickey has noticed that people are trailing him."
"But that is one cat," said Seelig, "and he has eyes in the back of his head. From now on he will not see my men in the crowd any more than he sees spots in the blue of the sky."
Ryder told, with certain vital omissions, about his scene with Claussen.
"Do you make anything of the tangle, now?" asked Ryder. "You and Martin have been laying your heads together. What's come of it?"
Seelig held up his right hand with the forefinger bent down under the pressure of the thumb, his eyes thoughtful.
"Porter Brant... Sydney Galloway... Claussen... Mrs. Claussen," said Seelig. "And then there is Hickey... the Countess... Mr. Ryder, did you come away with an impression that Claussen would be a friend of yours from now on?"
"Nothing will make him a friend of mine," said Ryder.
"You felt that he was being pushed on from the outside by more than his own interest, not?" asked Seelig,
"Yes. That way, I suppose."
Seelig released his imprisoned finger with a snap.
"They are joined together," said Seelig, triumphantly. "I felt it before and I know it now. They know you are after them and therefore they are after you. We fumble in the dark. They work in the clear daylight. We have to reach here and there. They have only to find one goal. That is you."
"So what's the next move?" asked Ryder.
"You leave New York," said Martin. "You've got to go, sir."
"Why?" said Ryder.
"Because," explained Seelig, "a league of intelligent people with money in their hands desires your death, and therefore you are sure to die. Nothing but distance can save you. Go as far as possible. And leave me with Martin to..."
"I'm staying here," said Ryder.
"Mr. Ryder..." cried Seelig.
"Quit it, Seelig," said Martin. "I told you it would be this way."
Ryder went back to the penthouse for lunch and found a small box waiting for him with a note from Eileen Durante, She had sent him her golden angel. He rang her place but she was not there and he was given Mike Ravenna's telephone number. Ravenna himself was quickly on the wire.
He said: "There's no use calling the girl to the phone, David. She wants to be seeing you, not just hearing your voice... or will you talk to him the way you've talked to me, Eileen?... Will you tell him frankly that you're in a dither about him?... Now she's screaming and dancing, Davie, and begging me to quit it, but I've told you the truth."
"Tell her I know you're a fat man and have to make comedy," said Ryder. "Mike, I want to ask you one important question: Was there a single one of the women at the dinner the other night who could be trusted?"
"Ay, there's Eileen."
"She's not a woman," said Ryder. "She's more like one of the angels, newly made and freshly out of the mint."
"Don't be too sure," said Ravenna, laughing. "The young ones are sleek and smooth. Their skin is just too tight to let in wrinkles. What we take for innocence may be just a layer of fat under the skin.... But seriously, you should come and see me, and Eileen. She's out of the room now, and I'll tell you that the sweet girl's lost her head about you. I can't tell why."
"Neither can I," said David, "but God bless her."
"I'm called away. And for whom? For Porter Brant. What the devil should he be wanting from me?"
"As sure as fate it's the last will of my uncle that Brant stole from him that night," said Ryder, "and he's come to bargain for a share of your forty per cent. In return, he'll destroy the will."
"My God, what people I've been associating with!" cried Ravenna. "What a scoundrel and a grafter I am."
"Where does your graft go except into the pockets of the poor and your friends?" asked Ryder.
"When I get a little older, I'm going to become; a monk and meditate. I'll join a silent order."
"You'd better join a singing order, Mike."
"Ah, David, partly you laugh and partly you love poor, fat Mike. A little? I'll be a friar and walk barefoot for my sins... except that 1 have such bunions!... Are you coming to me soon, my boy?"
"Soon!" said Ryder, and hung up.
HE went to the address of Marene Sutherland in the West Forties. At the desk he was told that she would see him at once and he went to an upper floor. She had one of those obviously decorated apartments, chiefly green, with strong splashes of bright yellow in the flowers and bright blues in the vases that held them. She wore a high-necked dress softened with lace but the old-fashioned touch somehow spoke more of new Paris wits than of the days of our grandmothers. She took him through a large living room into a little library paneled in pine with the paper bindings of French books glaring from the walls. The two big chairs took up most of the available floor space.
"I wanted to talk to you," said Ryder. "But first of all, there's something in my mind about those golden angels. May I see yours, if you have it around?"
"It's there beside you," said Marene Sutherland. It was on the smoking table, glistening like a spot of sunshine.
He leaned to look at it more closely; then she was saying: "Did you want to know only that I had it?"
"The fact is," lied Ryder, "that I thought there was a difference among some of them, but so far as I can tell, they're all identical."
She smiled, but her eyes reserved a judgment.
"You knew my uncle very well, I think?" he asked.
"Awfully well. This well," she answered, waving to the things in the room. Then she relaxed a little.
"Of all the people who were around him, you must have known more about what went on in his mind than anyone else," he continued.
Here she lifted her head and examined space with quiet, searching eyes. In that posture she was quite beautiful.
"Only one or two people knew more, I suppose," she said.
"Well, there was Mike Ravenna."
"And Martin. Perhaps he knew more than anyone about your uncle."
"Perhaps Martin, too," agreed Ryder. "And then you? But a woman always knows the most." Here her eyes, which had been occupied introspectively with her own thoughts, grew more sharply aware of him as he leaned a little forward in his chair with one elbow resting on the arm of it. He was wearing a thin, hard tweed, sufficiently old to have a country look, and his tan shoes were used enough to be discolored permanently in the toe wrinkles; yet he had something better than a modish look. Fashion might pass him by but he never would lag too much behind, or seem out of step.
"About John and me, you know, it wasn't a grand passion," said she.
"It was one of those mutually comfortable arrangements," said Ryder, nodding.
"That's a good, formal phrase for it," said she.
"He didn't talk to you a great deal about his preoccupations?"
"Hardly at all."
He glanced out the window, shook his head impatiently, and returned to the attack.
"Did he have many enemies?" asked Ryder.
"Yes. You know how he spoke. He would damn a man to his face as soon as say 'good morning.'"
"Do you believe," asked Ryder, "that there was really at the table the other night someone who had betrayed him, or was it just a joke?"
"Did it seem like a joke to you?" she asked.
She had looked down to the floor again and then up, quickly.
"It didn't seem like a joke to me," said Ryder. "But unlike you, I don't know who it was that he had in mind."
She felt the blow. Her eyes and her color did not alter but her chin lifted and fell a trifle as she swallowed.
"You do know," said Ryder,
"Know whom he meant? Certainly not!" said she.
"I think you ought to tell," said Ryder. "You understand, don't you, that it was not suicide? It was murder."
She seemed to have been waiting for the word. It got her out of her chair.
"Murder?" she whispered, and then jerked her head to look over her shoulder at the chimney-pots and jumbled, sooty gray of the near-by roofs.
He stood before her.
"It's only the speaking of a name. You'll do that," he insisted.
"I can't!" breathed Marene Sutherland.
"You don't want the police in here, do you?" asked Ryder.
"You wouldn't bring them!"
"Wouldn't I? I'm not asking you to do a rotten thing. I'm asking you to do justice.... Or do you want the police to come in and crack open your life as though it were an oyster and show it to the world in headlines?"
"But I can't!" cried Marene Sutherland.
"Why can't you?"
"You wouldn't believe me, to begin with."
"Try me, Marene."
"Do I have to?" she begged.
"You have to."
"I do have to," she said to herself. "I always knew that I would.... Wait till I put the lock on the front door."
She hurried from the room, and he heard the whispering of her dress diminish beyond the threshold. The sun, creeping on a higher slant into the room, touched the feet of the golden angel and turned them into a blistering jewel of flame that enlarged slowly. As that brightness grew, the silence grew with it until Ryder turned abruptly and faced the open doorway. The long, glistening finger of the sunlight was stretching toward it over the floor.
"Marene!" he called.
A pulse in his throat began to ache, suddenly, a deep pulse laid like a finger of pain up the right side of his windpipe.
He stepped to the empty doorway and looked out into the living room.
Nothing moved in it.
He hurried to the front door, braced his shoulders back, and pulled it suddenly open. The hall outside was empty. A shadow moved over his brain like the passage of a dark hand before his eyes. Two other doors opened from the room. He ran to them in turn and jerked them wide. They were simply closets. From a man's overcoat in one of them a faint sweetness of tobacco reached him.
In that nervous despair, he glanced up at the ceiling, down at the floor, and last of all he faced the window. It was the only possibility that remained. He nerved himself with every step to go to it and only when he was close to the end of the couch did he see her slumped down at the foot of the long green curtains. Her eyes were wide open but nothing was in them except a round blank of horror that pulled back the corners of her mouth and stiffened the cords of her throat.
He picked her up. Her whole body was rigid. When she relaxed a bit she would begin screaming, he was sure, and the thought of the screaming in that quiet sunny room ran swords through him.
He put her on the couch, stiff as a wooden figure, and ran back through the apartment to a bathroom. He snatched a towel from the rack, moistened an end of it in cold water, and returned to Marene.
Half crouched, half lying, she remained exactly as he had left her. He passed the wet of the towel over her face.
She snatched it out of his hand.
"Marene, what's happened, in the name of God?" he cried to her.
She flung the towel at him. Her mouth had to work out of its contraction before she could speak, still in a white horror, whispering: "Get out! Get out of my sight!"
He tried to hold her hands.
"I can help you, Marene!" he pleaded. "Will you talk to me? Will you tell me what's happened?"
Her face had the look of screaming but there was only the whisper hissing at him. "It's your beastly face that's killing me! Go away!"
He went to the outer door. When he glanced back, she had not altered; she still looked some invisible devil in the face. He closed the door softly on the horror.
It seemed to him that the elevator would never come; and only when the doors clanged shut behind him did his heart begin again to drive a warm current of blood through his body.
When he reached the street, he looked about him for a time with a strange feeling that danger hung over him, in the very air. He was beginning to reach a possible solution. She had gone into the front room to secure the door and, while she was there, through the window she had seen something that conveyed a frightful warning to her. Some face, some gesture, some signal from clear across the street? He could not understand, but he felt as though a gun had been pointed at his head. Whatever she knew, it was a matter of the most vast importance. If she spoke ten words, the mystery of Leggett's death might be cleared, and he resolved quietly that she would have to speak them.
When Ryder came back in the dull, hot middle of the afternoon, he found Seelig waiting for him at the penthouse. Martin had given him some still Moselle and water in a tall glass and the German was relishing it in small sips. He stood up and said: "The good news in your face, I see it not."
"I've seen Marene Sutherland and she has the golden angel, all right," said Ryder. "But everything else about her is wrong. It was murder, Seelig. And she knows the murderer! All we need to do now is to make one woman talk. We can forget the rest."
"To unseal such a pretty mouth, what a pleasure, Mr. Ryder!"
"Watch her, Seelig. Watch her! I've an idea that she may cut and run after seeing me."
"The telephone?" asked Seelig.
When he was taken to it. Ryder heard his gruff voice barking orders. Seelig came back drying his fat, sweating hands on a handkerchief.
"We shall have her," he said. "Two men go to watch... but in the meantime I have something to show you. Daley!"
"Daley?" cried Ryder. "The fellow who came to my uncle's study that night?"
"He is waiting in a little place with one of my men. Shall we go?"
They took Martin and went as fast as a taxi could take them to the far East Eighties, where Seelig led the way from the sidewalk down a flight of steps into one of those basement restaurant-bars with which prohibition days enriched New York. The repeal which lifted the ban shed a more sordid darkness on many of them, and this was one of the lowest. Two men sat at a corner table; three or four more were drenched in the shadows at the bar. The gleam of the shelves of bottles outlined them with a sort of sinister starlight.
Martin walked ahead toward the corner table. He said: "Hello, mug!"
Up stood a tall man with thin shoulders and a boyishly rounded face in high color. Ryder had to come nearer to distinguish beer bloat and a whisky flush from normal features.
"Hello, Martin," said the tall man. "I'm always glad to see you. I always would be glad."
"This is Mr. Ryder," said Martin. "Mr. Ryder, this is Daley... Seelig, you better haul out with your side-kicker."
"I? I haul?" exclaimed Seelig with great surprise.
"Perhaps. To make the conversation smaller?" suggested Ryder.
So Seelig and his operative withdrew, the arms of Seelig still thrusting out in gestures of German indignation and offended pride as he disappeared up the front steps of the place. Ryder and Martin settled down at the table.
"You took something to Mr. Leggett that night, Daley," said Martin. "What was it?"
"Oh—things," said Daley.
"Things that cost a lot," said Daley, smiling at Martin and sobering as he looked back at Ryder.
"They're gone," said Martin.
"Sure," nodded Daley.
"Maybe Mr. Leggett was murdered on account of them," went on Martin. "Will you talk?"
"I'd do a lot of things for you." said Daley. "You're only a frog, but I'd do a lot of things for you. Only, I wouldn't talk for nothing. Why should I? Excuse me, Mr. Ryder, but why should I?"
"How much money do you want?" asked Ryder.
"Enough for a clean break and a new start. On the other side. I gotta figure how much. I don't know. I'm all hopped up, and I can't think. Tomorrow I could name it... How much would you give me on account?"
"How much do you think?" asked Ryder.
Ryder reached for his wallet. He counted out two hundred in fifties and pushed the four bills across the table. Daley gathered the money in.
"Can you stand another drink?" Ryder asked.
"Take it, then. And don't take any more till I see you again. Give me your address."
"I'll write it," said Daley.
He took out a dirty envelope and spelled out some words and numbers with a pencil. Martin took the envelope. Ryder stood up; Daley pushed himself up from the table, also.
"Will you take care of yourself?" asked Ryder.
"I'll take care of myself. Maybe I'm going to be worth taking care of, eh?"
"Of course you are," said Ryder.
"Martin, it's been a damned long time and I need a drink," said Gains. "But I've lost the combination of the wine-closet lock. Do I have to wait till Mr. Ryder comes home or are you going to use those hands of yours and read the mind of that combination?"
"I have no time," said Martin. "In a minute I get a ring from a girl from Buenos Aires."
"Listen, Martin," said Gains. "Do your stuff, will you?"
The wine cupboard, a splendid relic of prohibition days, showed only a blank face of wooden paneling until Gains pushed back a little slide that revealed the big steel disks of the combination.
"Why should I open that?" asked Martin, shaking his head.
"Yeah, it looks mean to you, don't it?" said Gains. "Your hand is all right for any of the old tin gags that only need a can opener, and no brains at all. You know you can't handle a first- rate up-to-date job."
Martin looked aslant at the butler. He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue and drew in a short breath; then he stepped to the combination and whirled the finger disk left and right, rapidly, then slowly. After that, he fell on his knees and put his ear close as he continued to manipulate the disk.
"That was an easy one," he said, and whirling the disk from number to number, he drew an audible click from the lock. At once three panels of the wall, moved by springs inside, began to turn out until a doorway stood wide, glistening with its inch lining of foolproof steel. A cool breath of pungency stole out from the shadows inside. Gains stepped to the threshold. He turned on the lights inside which set the stacked rows of bottles glistening.
Martin paused at the threshold.
"It's over there in the left corner," he said. "Bring it along."
"What's the matter?" asked Gains, staring at him. "Got the jitters? Afraid of a burglar alarm? You been in here before enough times."
But Martin, pausing at the door, shook his head.
"Not since it belonged to him," he said.
Gains began to laugh: "What is he? A holy church, or something?"
The buzz of the telephone cut in.
"She waits for me!" cried Martin, kissing his hand, and disappearing.
Over the telephone he heard the deep young voice of Ryder saying: "Martin? I need you. Come down to the northern entrance of Gresham Lane. You know where that is?"
"I'll come on the jump," said Martin. "Wait till you see me walk by and turn into the lane. It may be that a big fellow—not tall but built squat, like a wrestler or a prize fighter—it may be that he'll turn into the lane after me. If he does, follow. He's wearing a blue suit and gray hat. He has folds in the back of his neck. He's as strong as a wolverine. And there's a gun bulge on the left side of his coat. Walk lightly, when you're behind him. He lives on raw meat, Martin."
"I'll be there," said Martin.
"I know you will," said Ryder.
GRESHAM LANE is one of the few in New York that has a crook to it. It starts from the north out of the usual solid wall of concrete and after twenty paces it jogs to the east a little and goes on past the back of a restaurant kitchen below the pavement level, with a steam of soup and smoke of cookery constantly rising through the two manholes. Gresham Lane is an accident which happens to be immortalized and cast into steel and stone.
Martin, at the northern mouth of it, paused to look at the window display of a leather shop. He looked at it with much care, noting down every detail until a clerk peered at him over the inside curtain. Why should a clerk be there at this twilight hour, he wondered?
He turned away and busied himself scratching matches for a cigarette that apparently would not light. Then he saw David Ryder go by him with that alert, swinging stride and not a touch of recognition in his face. Still Martin struggled with his cigarette, which did not catch until a solid chunk of a man in a blue suit moved rapidly across the street and entered Gresham Lane. The street light slashed a black shadow across the upper part of his face but Martin saw the jaw greased with sweat and big with muscle. Martin followed.
Rubber heels help to soften a step and there is also a way of putting down the fore-part of the foot with the outer edge first, which is Indian style. That was the system of Martin. He was an expert in silent movement and even up the oldest wooden stairs he knew how to step without permitting a squeak. He walked with a good deal of confidence, therefore, within run-and-jump distance of the man in the blue suit; and he took note, in the meantime, of the wrinkling of that coat between the shoulder blades with every swing of the stranger's arms. It was not fat but deeply layered strength that filled out the clothes of the man in blue. In spite of his bulk, not an echo of his footfall sounded through the narrow alley. Martin recognized the footwork of a kindred spirit and began to press his elbow affectionately against the solid weight of the automatic beneath his coat.
Here for an instant the man in blue turned from sight past the jog in the street. Martin passed the same obtuse angle with the first rich, stale breath of the kitchen in his nostrils and ran straight into the hands of the man in blue. One of them reached for Martin's throat but, missing it, gripped the shoulder of his coat and the flesh beneath; the other hand balled into a fist that clubbed the side of Martin's head and knocked the alley lights into dancing blurs, the shaggy backs of the buildings into waverings of darkness. Through that obscurity he saw Ryder coming like a greyhound. As his master reached the man in blue and knocked him away, whirling, Martin fell on his face.
The big automatic, grinding flesh against his ribs, roused him like a hand of fire. His hand lay in a runlet of moisture. Nausea helped to pull up his knees under his body, and when he could lift his head he saw the long legs of Ryder, the short legs of the man in blue as they grappled, staggering.
He got his hand on the automatic but he could not pull it out. Instead of strength in his wrist and elbow he had only electric jitters; then he saw Ryder go down with a whack as though the flat of two hands had been clapped together. The man in blue fell with him, rolled to his feet, and seemed to drag up Ryder with him.
In the slowly clearing mind of Martin the images of action blurred like underexposed pictures or something seen through rain, but he heard the cracking impact of Ryder's fist and watched the gray hat hop from the head of the stranger as he reeled back against the wall. He had a close-clipped, blond head that glistened as though with its own special light; still brighter was the gun that he pulled from his coat. The flash of it telegraphed a message through every nerve of Martin and brought him to life. With one gesture he dragged out his automatic and swung it with all his might against the nearest leg of the man in blue. The bone of the shin crunched under the stroke. He made one staggering hop before he fell He was so strong that his two arms cushioned the fall like rubber and let his weight spring up again until he was on one knee; but pain had so weakened him that Ryder pulled the gun out of his fingers. He dropped back to a sitting posture with the broken leg horribly twisted before him.
Ryder was straightening it as Martin got to his feet.
"Lie flat on your back; it'll ease you." Ryder directed.
The man in blue did not seem to hear. He braced himself on his long arms like an ape, drawing in breath through his mouth and snorting it forth through his nose. His hair was not pale with age but with extreme blondness. Below the eyebrows he had the face of a world conqueror but above was the head of a child.
"What's your name?" Ryder asked.
"Tony," the man answered.
"Who sent you after me. Tony?"
Tony made no reply.
"I can make him talk," remarked Martin, taking hold of the broken leg.
Tony groaned on an indrawn breath.
"Let him be." said Ryder.
"One twist—that will make him talk fast enough," said Martin. "He would have murdered you. sir."
"Not this poor devil. The money behind him is what you mean," said Ryder. "Lie down flat, Tony. As soon as we're out of sight, yell a time or two and people will come. Tell 'em that you stumbled and hit your shin on the curb, here."
But Tony forgot his pain to stare with open mouth at Ryder.
"You mean you're leaving me in the clear?" he asked.
"We're leaving you in the clear," answered Ryder.
"What the hell?" asked Tony.
"So long!" called Ryder. "Come on, Martin."
"Wait a minute!" called Tony. "The dirty, two-faced twicer! He didn't tell me you were a white man like this... I'll give you the name. I'll give you everything... It's Gonelli!"
"Ah, my friend Gonelli! He sent you?" said Ryder.
"To trail me? Was that it?"
"I trail you to see that you don't go to the apartment house where Porter Brant lives," said Tony.
"And if I go there?" asked Ryder.
"I shoot," said Tony.
"Gonelli—Brant—and murder. There's sure to be murder if Gonelli's in the soup," said Ryder. "But Porter Brant?"
"If they know." said Tony, "they cut out my heart."
"They'll never hear it from me," said Ryder, "But how can a fellow like Gonelli spend money like water?"
"Gonelli? He's nothing much," said Tony. "But the ones behind. The big one behind!"
"Who's that?" Ryder asked.
Tony made a wide gesture to banish all thought of speech from his mind.
"We'll go," said Ryder.
"One minute more," pleaded Martin. He got down on one knee and snarled at Tony: "You know what he's done, Tony? He could send you up the river to cool till you're an old man. He's letting you go. Come clean, Tony, Let's have the story, Mr, Ryder will take care of you. He'll take you in. He's rich, and he's straight. Hell, Tony, he's straighter than a rod. Talk out, will you? He'll have your leg patched so you'll never limp. Will you talk?"
Tony, for an answer, lay down on his back.
"Go away." he muttered.
When Ryder and Martin reached the house, a telephone message had in fact come from Porter Brant, and Ryder rang him at once.
The rich, affected unction of Brant's voice answered: "Ah. Ryder? I've been trying to put a hand on you. Can I see you?"
"I think so." said Ryder.
"But here? Could you come here?"
"That's harder," said Ryder.
The voice of Brant changed suddenly in quality.
"I don't want to leave the place," he said, "It might be dangerous...."
"What's this all about?" asked Ryder.
"Ryder, I can't tell you, but will you come?"
"You talk like life or death." said Ryder.
"Life and death... and millions!" cried Brant. "Will you come to me. man?"
"I'll come in a moment." said Ryder.
He rang Seelig. The report was quite up-to-date. Countess Lalo was home: the Claussens were at Francesco's: so were Ravenna and Eileen Durante; Porter Brant at home: Jimmy Hickey at his newspaper office.
"But the first one you want to know about—the chief one of all of them—the Miss Carton!" said Seelig. with triumph in his voice.
"Well, what about her?" demanded Ryder.
"She has gone off in an automobile with Elia Gonelli!" cried Seelig.
"Where?" shouted Ryder.
"We follow them: we hope to keep close to them: have no fear." called Seelig.
The ugly brutality of the face of Gonelli formed like a ghost before Ryder, smiling.
He put the image away from him by force.
"I have to reach Marene Sutherland," he said, "What about her?"
"I should have told you that first of all... She is gone."
"She is gone from New York."
"Seelig." cried Ryder, "if she's gone from New York, she's dead."
"No, Mr. Ryder. She's in Boston, we hear. She will come back."
"Find her! Find her!" commanded Ryder. "And let me know at once. If I can have five minutes talk with her, the whole business may be cleared up."
He hung up.
When Ryder reached the Brant apartment, the door opened a crack and he saw first the shining of golden hair; then Sydney Galloway opened the door wide, laughing.
"That's the formula today," she said. "We listen first, and then we look. Come in, David. Let me have your hat.... Coming, Porter! Coming with David Ryder."
She explained as they went down the hall together; "That's to keep from breaking into the middle of one of his thoughts. Thoughts don't come to my Porter like a flock of swallows. They come one by one and he keeps them in cold storage.... Here he is, Porter. What are you offering him to drink? He looks like an old- fashioned to me."
Brant came forward in a wine-colored smoking-jacket and offered his hand.
"The terrible part about Sydney is that she looks so lovely and she's really so dreadful," he said. "Ryder. I know you don't want anything as barbarous as an old-fashioned."
"I do though," said Ryder. "I want it plenty."
"You see what it is to be a man, Porter?" asked the girl.
She went out of the room, smiling.
"What's the matter?" asked Ryder, as he sat down.
"I'm in a state of siege," said Porter Brant, leaning forward confidentially and explaining with his upturned hands. "It's a terrible thing, Ryder. I mean, in a great city like New York, to be in danger!"
"There're the police, you know," said Ryder.
"The police! If I called them in, they'd laugh."
"Yes. they do that, sometimes," nodded Ryder. "It's not murder, I suppose."
"Murder? What put that word in your mouth?" asked Brant.
"Why, all these precautions, and this whispering talk."
Sydney Galloway came in with a big old-fashioned and gave it to Ryder. She put a glass and a bottle of Rhine wine, frosted to silver, beside Brant.
"I've got to fly," she said. "If Porter gets too excited, just hold his hand a while and he'll calm down."
"Have a good time. Give the Claussens my love. And don't stay out too late, darling," said Brant.
"Just be patient with him," said the girl to Ryder, and hurried down the hall.
"I was going to say—what was I going to say?" asked Brant.
"Something about it not being murder," suggested Ryder.
"I wish you wouldn't use that word again!" protested Brant.
"By the way," said Ryder, "does Sydney keep that dinner token about? That golden angel, you know?"
"She keeps it on the dresser in her room," said Brant. "Why?"
"I just wondered," said Ryder.
"I really want to get on," said Brant. "Please do."
"It's a matter." whispered Brant, "that could be murder! That's the truth of it. Could be murder. I want to speak to you about the most unscrupulous human being in the world. A devil. A perfect devil, Ryder!"
"Go on," said Ryder. "Man or woman?"
"I'll come to that. It is a thing in which I need help. You understand? The matter of fact is that we would be in a position to put on pressure. Don't mistake me. We can deal in millions if we work together, Ryder."
"Blackmail?" asked Ryder.
"What a word!" cried Brant.
"Well, what is it?"
"Why, I'm talking about a regular business adjustment. I mean to say. there are all sorts of commodities. A good name is one of them, isn't it?"
"Of course it is. Now, if a good name is criminally adventured and in danger of being lost... criminally adventured, mind you?"
"H-m-m!" said Ryder.
"In that case," went on Brant, in a louder and easier voice, "it certainly is only just and right that the crime should be paid for. And that's exactly what I want to talk to you about!"
"I see," said Ryder, despising the man.
"It just so happens," said Brant, "that in this case a single person could hardly benefit—not to a great extent, I mean. But you and I working together—sharing the profits—why, Mr, Ryder, we both could receive great fortunes!"
"Would those fortunes," said Ryder, "be a part of the estate of John J. Leggett?"
"Ha?" cried Brant. "A part of what?... Why, the fact is...."
"This information you have... did you get it on the night of the murder?" asked Ryder.
"Murder?" cried Brant. "My dear fellow, it was self-destruction, wasn't it?... But of course—powder burn on the skin of the forehead.... I remember every detail in the papers!"
"So do I," said Ryder. "Well, go on."
Here the telephone rang loudly in the hall and Brant started up as though he had been struck. He hurried nervously to answer it and Ryder could hear his voice rather dimly saying: "Hello,... You... No, I didn't expect.... Not after we had.... Oh... oh, did you!... Of course I'm open to reason, particularly since I don't find—well, never mind that.... Do you mean here?... Yes, I suppose so. But alone.... Certainly, then. I'm terribly glad you telephoned. I think we'll see eye to eye on everything. Good night!"
Brant came back into the room smiling, slowly rubbing his hands together.
"You won't need me after all?" suggested Ryder, standing up.
"Why, how did you... but the fact is that matters have taken a different turn, and I won't need you, after all," said Brant. "Lovely to have seen you. though.... You'll finish your cocktail before you go, won't you?"
Ryder picked up the glass and drank it down. The whisky left a faint shudder through his body and sent up a perfumed smoke into his brain. He put down the glass and straightened again.
"It wouldn't have gone through between you and me, anyway."
"Wouldn't it?" said Porter Brant. "Dreadful pity, that."
"What a poor, hungry devil you are," said Ryder, studying him, "I hope there's no poison in what you get to eat?"
"Poison?" cried Brant.
"Good night," said Ryder. and left him.
A shudder that was not of the whisky followed him down in the elevator. When he reached the street a very thin rain was falling, making the lights beautiful with sparkling halos and stretching long paths of watery yellow along the pavements. The rain was no more than a cooling breath and he walked slowly, regardless of it, to the next corner.
The red light piled up the cross-town traffic at that point. He lighted a cigarette as he started to cross and found a smartly trudging. stocky man beside him, saying: "Yes, Mr. Ryder?"
"How are you, Seelig?" asked Ryder. "Are you keeping me spotted along with other things?"
"The young lady—she is gone!" said Seelig.
"Let us not be seen talking!" breathed Seelig, hurrying on.
"Gone where?" said Ryder, when his long legs overtook the little German.
"We followed her as well as we could. But only an angel with wings can follow a trail through Manhattan traffic. We have lost her and Gonelli. Mr. Ryder."
"Good!" said Ryder. "Then we'll go to her room and look for her golden angel."
On the way out in the taxicab, Ryder reported his last interview in detail.
Seelig grew excited.
He said: "There is only one mind behind them. We follow them one by one. and we get little. Why? Suppose all the words of a conversation are lying around on bits of paper. They mean nothing except to the speakers. Nothing except to the minds who uttered the speech. We are like that. We find many words. Now we must find the one mind behind them."
"All those people at the dinner the other night," said Ryder, "you're convinced that they were sheep, driven about by one mind?"
"Nothing is sure. Only death... only death...." said the German. "Hope in the beginning and death in the end.... But one mind we shall find under all of this, and in that mind the murder!"
A little porch with white-painted wooden pillars formally hooded the entrance of the rooming house of Leslie Carton. When Ryder had left his shoes with Seelig, he found it easy to scale the pillars and get to the pointed roof of the porch. He carried with him this good advice: "When you are searching a strange house, you are a burglar. Mr. Ryder. And burglars go quickly up the river and stay there for a long time. Here on this paper, you see, is the architect's plan for tire house. We got it yesterday. This is Miss Carton's room."
Crouched close to the front wall of the house, he noticed how clearly the shadows of the leaves of the chestnut tree in the yard patterned their outlines against the white paint. His own outline would be even more distinct when he was climbing against that background.
A window-sill and the carved work above the window helped him up to the third story where the shadows of the chestnut branches showered a dim security over him. The window already stood open and he stepped at once into the room of Leslie Carton.
A flashlight should be held low, Seelig had cautioned him. Otherwise its glare on the wall might be seen through a window and there is nothing like a moving light in a room to catch the eye of the passer-by. Nothing is so snaky. so subtle, so dangerously suggestive of a stalking thief.
So he held the light low. It showed him the feet and the shadowy forms of a Duncan Phyfe table near the two windows, a slipper- chair with yellow chintz on it, another straight, black, ladder- backed chair with a rush bottom, a studio couch covered with linen crash, the natural color, a white marble frame for the arch of an iron fireplace with a tiny grate in it, green-painted paneling around the fireplace and gray-green oatmeal paper beyond, a very old yellow Persian rug on the floor, which was covered to the walls with smooth Chinese matting, a chest of drawers with a marble top and bunches of carved grapes for drawer pulls, and above the chest a mirror out of which a ghost peered dimly at him.
That was his own image, he realized as he snapped the light out.
Now, in the warm darkness, he touched with his hand the ceiling above him and began to breathe, deeply, a faint, clean perfume that remained in the air like a voice, a sorrow and a delight.
He found the bathroom and gave one flash to its whiteness. Then he came back to the chest of drawers. He knew exactly where to look, he told himself. She would keep the little jewel in the top drawer.
Just as he had expected, that top drawer was divided into compartments. White collars, folded scarves, gloves, handkerchiefs. Then two rather cheap pins for the scarfs, perhaps. Something twisted in a wrapping of tissue paper: a pair of shoe buckles set with small brilliants. And with the buckles a golden ring set with quite a large, square-faced emerald. He gave the light a second time to the emerald, because it was surprisingly good. Perhaps two carats and unflawed. So far as he could see. The real, deep sea green. Whoever gave that to Leslie Carton thought a good deal of her and it was rather strange that she had not worn it at the dinner.
He turned up the ring to squint at the interior. The engraving was done in very fine hairlines. He went into a corner to play the light more safely and freely on it and so he managed to read: "To Dorrie from J.J."
He put the ring back into the dresser drawer and made a final casual search through it for the golden angel, but there was no trace of that. Light was pouring on his mind from the delicately incised words: "To Dorrie, from J.J." That meant John James Leggett, beyond any great doubt, and if that were true the whole problem deepened and darkened at once.
That Leslie should be living in the room that once was occupied by Dorrie was odd enough. Her possession of the ring multiplied the mystery. He felt like one who finds rays of light by night but cannot come to the house from which they are shining.
He had not found the golden angel, which would have removed some suspicion. Instead he had found in the ring something that pointed to the girl with a horrible directness.
When the Claussens and Sydney Galloway came out of the theater they spied before them a huge hulk that wallowed through the crowd. He was munching something. The stringy covering of a sausage, frayed by his teeth, glistened in the light on either side of his face.
"It's Mike!" cried Sydney. "Let's hurry and catch him. You know how he can move through a crowd."
She slipped ahead, calling: "Mike! Mike!"
When she came up to him he said: "I heard you all the time, my dear, but I wanted to finish my sausage. You shouldn't attract all the attention, like this."
"As though anyone would notice me when your big red moon of a face is shining!" said the girl. "Mike, do you still love me?"
"Of course I love you," said Ravenna, wiping the grease from the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand, and then wiping the back of his hand with a handkerchief.
"Then come home with me," said Sydney Galloway. "You all come home, will you, Elspeth? We'll have a drink."
"I'm busy, Sydney, darling," said Ravenna.
"You're not busy," she insisted. "I need you."
"Ah, well, then, of course!" he answered. "That's my taxi, starter, isn't it?"
"Certainly, Mr. Ravenna," said the doorman, sweeping back with his arm the couple who were about to enter it.
"You didn't even tip him," said Elspeth Claussen, when they had squeezed into place inside and given the address.
"They do know you, Mike. You're a comfort to have along in traffic, I must say."
"You're such a big girl, Elspeth," he told her, "that you let your heart get the best of your wits. Suppose I tipped everyone. They would soon forget me. They want me to remember their faces and then when they come asking it will be for more than a quarter. Oh, I know about all that!"
"Why didn't you tell me that you "were going to the show?" asked Sydney Galloway.
"Because I didn't know that it would be so good. These plays about honest workingmen and the hard world usually are pretty bad; and so I just slip in, sip the flower, and leave before my stomach turns," answered Ravenna. "Thanks for the tip on the third race today, Eric."
"The dog didn't win!" cried Claussen.
"He came within a nose of winning," said Ravenna.
"Did Eric almost pick a winner for you, Uncle Mike?" asked Sydney.
"He did," said Ravenna. "Horse came within an inch or two of making a lot of money for me."
"That's the way with everything," said Sydney Galloway. "We almost win: but what we have to live on is second money."
"What's the matter with you tonight?" asked Claussen. "Don't be sour and start thinking. Can't you cheer up?"
"I don't know," she answered. "I'm getting a little fed up with my Porter, if you want to know the truth."
"You've fed him for such a long time, dear," said Elspeth, "that I thought it had become a life habit."
"Don't be nasty," said Sydney. "I need comforting."
"He looks so noble, though," said Elspeth.
"It's a beautiful job of minting," said Sydney. "But I wonder if it's a real coin?"
"Test him," said Claussen.
"He is so damned precious," said the Galloway girl. "When he talked all about art and beauty, I thought it was destiny; and then I discovered that he couldn't ride a horse and hated big dogs—and everything began to go wrong. Put him beside a fellow like this David Ryder, for instance."
There was a chorus of surprise and laughter.
"Don't be ugly, Elspeth," said Sydney. "I've seen you look at him in a certain way. He can really be quite nice and to the point."
"Sort of half business and half polo, eh?" asked Claussen.
"No use trying to picture yourself at the altar with him, Sydney," said Ravenna. "I have him pinned together with Eileen. Unless the cloth tears."
"Uncle Mike, you're a pig," said Sydney.
"Do you like this fellow Ryder, really?" asked Claussen.
"I love him," said Ravenna. "Leggett was my brother, and I inherit David from him."
They went up to the apartment and Sydney unlocked the door.
"We've been without servants for days," she said. "They can't stand Emperor Porter. He asks the maids to do his nails and the butlers to draw his bath and it gets right up their noses."
"Hi! Porter! Friends coming!" she called.
The echoes walked down the hall and diminished to nothing.
"He's gone to bed," said Sydney. "I'll get him up if it's the last act of my life."
She disappeared. The Claussens wandered about the room looking at Chinese prints along the walls, and Elspeth even stopped to finger the brocade covering of the couch. Ravenna went to the pantry, where he rummaged around noisily.
"Uncle Mike! Mike Ravenna!" shrilled the sharp voice of Sydney Galloway.
"Well? Well?" boomed Ravenna.
"Come here—quickly!" she cried.
Detective Hans Seelig, definitely bland, sat back in one of the easy chairs in the library and smiled upon Ryder.
Ryder was saying: "I was with Brant at about the time when he must have been killed. Suppose the police find that out! What do they know about the murder?"
"It was gas," nodded Seelig.
"That's suicide stuff," said Ryder. "People take gas when they want to step out from under. Perhaps it was suicide."
"We Americans, we do not stop to think, not?" asked Seelig. "But try to think with old Hans Seelig. Let us ask: 'Where was gas in the Brant apartment?' We know that it was only in the kitchen. Then was Brant dead in the kitchen? No. He was dead in his bed. Did he run a long tube from the kitchen to his bed-room? Or after his death, who took the tube away? It is like so, I think. With gas he was killed; and therefore he must have been killed in his kitchen. Then did the dead man stand up and walk to his bedroom and get into the bed?"
"They made certain that it was with gas that Brant was killed?" Ryder asked.
"Absolutely certain," said Seelig. "When you breathe a thing like gas, the lungs are sponges to soak up and hold. So!" He clasped a portion of air between his hollowed hands and smiled again at Ryder, over them.
Ryder recited: "My uncle's guests, Seelig—what a crew they were! Claussen, who hires killers... Brant... Jimmy Hickey... Marene Sutherland... Sydney Galloway... the countess, from all I hear... all spoiled meat, eh? God, what a dinner party, Seelig! Why did he want them?"
"When we have too much money and too much time, we waste them both, not?" suggested Seelig. "You do not speak of Mike Ravenna."
"In politics they say he's a clever fox; but I'll answer for him in everything else. He's a father to me, Seelig. But tell me about another person. You know people, Seelig. Tell me your thought about Leslie Carton."
Hans Seelig delayed his answer. He smiled at Ryder and shook his large head so that his jowls quivered.
"How young it is! How young it is!" he said.
"You mean that I'm acting like a young fool?" asked Ryder.
"Because of her, you have not slept, not?" said Seelig.
"Never mind that. Tell me what you would think."
"There is no going backward for the mind," said Seelig. "Good women with bad Italian boys like Gonelli do not go."
After a moment Ryder was able to say: "I admit she's unlike other people, but she couldn't do murder."
"Some people want only strong drink," said Seelig. "And murder is like that. We Americans have girls that will take gin or whisky. We have girls that will murder, too. And even in Germany—I knew in Frankfurt-am-Main—how close to my heart is that day!—a lovely sweet girl with eyes so blue and like an angel smiling..."
"But a murderess, eh?" demanded Ryder.
"Good woman, she is like an egg. One crack in the shell and all the meat may spoil, dear Mr. Ryder."
Ryder lighted a cigarette, stamped it out at once in an ash tray, and rang the bell. When Gains appeared, Ryder asked for an Irish whisky; Seelig would have nothing.
"In the morning like this, it gives me a big knock in the head," said Seelig.
"And you, too, Mr. Ryder, now that you have a great deal to think about..."
The whisky came. Ryder took it at a swallow and waited for another moment, breathing the fumes. The steady ache in his heart seemed to grow less.
"I want you to keep at the back trail of Leslie Carton," he said. "Keep your best men at work on her."
"No, no, Mr. Ryder! This morning you are strong and fierce. Tonight you will be tender again. Only time will wear the pretty girl away. The badness comes into her eyes with the years. So? Then you know everything without detectives."
"Do as I say," said Ryder. "There's a ghost of a hope that she may be all right.... I hope to God she has her golden angel with her still. If she hasn't... well, it was not in the room, but she might have been carrying the thing with her, mightn't she?"
"Why?" asked Seelig. "It is not a lip-stick. It is not a cigarette case. Why, tell me, would you carry it?"
"Then find out about her," said Ryder. "Whatever the truth is, I've got to know it.... And the back-track on Dorrie. Follow that still."
"I shall," said Seelig, "but it is time now to go to visit the room of Daley. Some of the liquor may have cleared out of his brain by this time, and he will talk."
They left at once, with Martin, and went to Daley's address. It was one of those dingy brick houses right under the roar and tremor of the Queensborough Bridge. Daylight made only half a step into the shadows behind the front door, which stood open. A smell of gas followed them up the stairs. In the second-story hallway they almost stumbled over a small boy who was playing train in that dun-colored obscurity. He looked up with a white, dirty face and then bent again to his game. On the floor above, Martin, walking ahead, said: "This is the room."
He knocked at the door. They waited, knocked again.
"He may be asleep; he may be full of the stuff," said Martin, and pushed the door open.
Ryder took the lead, here, stepping into a small room that had the shade down and an unshaded electric light burning above a kitchen table in the center of the room. A foul odor thickened the air. Daley lay in the bed with the blanket pulled halfway over his head and his knees drawn up.
"He's cooked with the stuff," said Martin. "That's because you handed him so much money."
Soiled cotton underwear, socks and a shirt were piled on a chair beside the bed. Coat and trousers hung over the back of it.
"Daley!" called Ryder, and laid his hand on the shoulder of the man in the bed. The flesh was stone-hard, and the stone-cold of it filtered through the nightshirt to the fingers of Ryder.
He stepped back from the bed.
"I should have made him talk yesterday," he said to Seelig. "Now it's too late."
Martin stepped hurriedly to the bed and pulled back blanket and sheet. Dark blood clotted around a narrow gash exactly over the scrawny, projecting spinal column of Daley.
"Yes—he is dead," said Martin, and he drew the clothes up again.
"QUICKLY, we better get out!" panted Seelig, heading back toward the door. "When it comes to police, there is nothing but questions and talking, talking, talking."
"We're moving now!" answered Martin, starting for the door in his turn. "Monsieur!"
For Ryder was leaning over the dead man to look into his face and his partly open eyes.
"Wait a moment," he said.
He picked up the coat of the dead man and forced his hand to enter the pockets. At last he picked out four tightly folded bills.
"He was playing the game with us," said Ryder. "He hasn't spent any of the money I gave him.... Seelig?"
"Yes, sir? For God's sake be quick!" urged the detective.
"Will two hundred dollars get him a decent burial?" asked Ryder.
"Yes... I think so," said Seelig.
"We'll make it two hundred more for surety," said Ryder, adding two more bills to the fold. He put the whole sum back in the coat pocket and joined the two other men.
A few minutes later, at home, he had Martin bring him a drink and tried with it to wash his mind clean of the last memory.
"Do you know what it means, Martin?" he asked.
"It means that murder is just around the corner from all of us, sir," said Martin. "It's raining murder—Mr. Leggett—Brant—Daley."
Gains called Ryder to the telephone.
"This is Sydney, David," said her voice on the wire. "And may I see you? Soon? Right now? I'll come up to your place, if I may."
He told her to come. Afterward he sat with his chin on his fist and tried to think.
Then Sydney Galloway came.
She wore a blue silk dress that flared out at the bottom and flowed a little too snugly over her body, and she had on a wide- brimmed hat with a colored lining that made a rosy shadow over her face.
"I couldn't go into mourning," she said, when she felt his eyes. "I tried to, but I couldn't. I hate black, don't you, David?"
He said he hated black and took her into a little after-dinner room which a whim of Leggett had transported entire from France. Sydney sat up in one of the ornate chairs and folded her gloved hands. She smiled at Ryder.
She said: "It's really like a dream, except that I keep remembering the ugly look that Porter was wearing. Did you hear about that?"
He watched the pretty ghoul and smiled in turn as he shook his head.
"That was quite horrible," said Sydney. "If he had just gone into a quiet sleep like the great baby that he was—but he had seen something before he died. I think one of those bright detectives might have worked it out if they'd cared to use their brains. I mean, one could almost read the lines of his face and say what they were about. It keeps a chill in the back of my mind, like a cold shadow in a bright room. I hope you don't think I'm too silly?"
"Not a bit," said Ryder. "He was beginning to bore you, wasn't he?"
"He was a fake," said the girl. "One can see things clearly, over the shoulder. By the way, I've heard about you and Eileen Durante. She's a lovely child." She emphasized the last word a little.
"What in the world have you heard?" asked Ryder.
"That you're very fond of her; no one could blame you a bit."
"I've hardly laid eyes on her."
"Well, the result of everything is that I have to go back to Hollywood, and I hate that," she said.
"But that's where you're at home," said Ryder.
"Oh, no! Hollywood is just a big ornate entrance hall to life; one can't really live there."
"No?" said Ryder.
"And here in New York it will be impossible for me for a while, of course."
"I don't see why," said Ryder. "The only reason Brant ever was invited was because of Sydney Galloway."
"I wonder," she mused. "Really, I've been such a fool. But I think I ought to get away."
"It would be a bit more delicate, I suppose," admitted Ryder.
"And then, you know—how shall I say it?"
"Is it embarrassing?"
"I'll close my eyes," said Ryder.
"Then I wondered—wouldn't you like to get away, too?"
"That's awfully nice of you," said Ryder, looking at her smiling eyes, "but I have to stay here for a lot of reasons.... I was about to say: Another time, please; but that would sound pretty bold, wouldn't it?"
She relaxed in her chair, and took a cigarette out of a box on the table beside her. Ryder held a lighter for her.
"You don't really give a damn about that sort of thing, do you?" she remarked. "But when you do, what a damn it will be!... I knew it couldn't be Eileen. Sweet little thing, but as thin as autumn ice.... Do you mind if I relax like this for a moment? I thought if you liked Eileen at all I would try being pretty and sweet; but I shouldn't have been such a fool. David, tell me what you think of me."
"Turn your head a little toward the window." said Ryder. "I think you're about the loveliest girl I've ever seen."
"And the most worthless?"
"Not at all. I've seen you on the screen, you know."
She canted her head to consider this but then laughed at it.
"By the way... you've had men following the people who were at the dinner that night."
"What makes you think I've had men following them?" asked Ryder.
"I've been followed. And I forget who told me that you were the one who hired the detectives.... I wanted to say that I don't care. But people like Claussen and James Hickey can be frightfully nasty. Claussen can be a regular snake."
"I'll watch for him," said Ryder.
"Well," she went on, "that brings me to another thing. It's about that call you made on Porter Brant yesterday in the evening."
"If the police should know that I had been there, they might be nasty?"
"I suppose they would. They're so absurd," said she. "And that's one reason I hoped that you'd want to take me away on a trip—I'm so perfectly flat broke, David. So that we could both be out of sight."
"I murder Porter Brant, and Sydney is the motive. It would read like that, wouldn't it?" he asked.
"Would it? I wonder! But could you help me with a little money, David? I mean just five or six thousand.... I really don't want to be around and have the nasty police third-degree me until I tell them everything I know!"
"I know you'd hate to talk," he said.
"I'd abominate it," answered Sydney.
"And you'd need five or six thousand dollars for the little trip?"
"Oh, not just for fare. But the way one picks up debts in New York—I do wish the stores wouldn't trust one so. And if people would only send checks instead of flowers, everything would be lovely."
"I might wring your neck instead," said Ryder.
She ran her fingers over her throat.
"Yes, you might do that."
"Martin would dispose of the body, I'm sure," mused Ryder.
"Martin has such a clever look," she agreed.
"And yet I think we could be quite happy together if we took that trip," he went on.
"Yes, yes, yes!" she cried, jumping up from her chair. "I'm not all snake, David. And I know I could make you happy. If I could make that dummy of a Porter Brant smile all day long, what could I do with a real man?"
"Well, some day, perhaps," said Ryder. "But I have to stay in New York, just now. It has to be five thousand?"
"Or six, if you're really sweet."
"You run along home, and I'll see what I can do. I haven't a penny, you see, until the estate is settled."
"Oh, but it's so easy to borrow!"
"It isn't always, though," said Ryder. "When you're going to be the heir to three or four millions at least?" she exclaimed.
"That's the trouble," said Ryder. "A whisper has gone around town along the electric wires that handle the money talk. The whisper says that there's something wrong about the will. That there may even be another will. And there isn't a moneylender in town who would give a penny to any of us. But you know all this, Sydney. Because if you need money you must have tried to get an advance on account of your legacy in the Leggett will; and when you tried, you found out that the money was frozen, didn't you?"
"Yes. Lawyers are so ridiculous."
"So I'm strapped at present."
"What a frightful pity. But a real man, like you, certainly will be able to raise a bit of hard cash."
"I'll have to try," he told her.
"David, are you going to despise me? Please don't. But I do have to live, don't I? And I'm not ready for Hollywood again. It was quite a shock, and all, you know."
HE went over to see Mike Ravenna at once, and Mike came out of a conference, rolling the butt of a strong cigar between his thick, red lips.
"Do you want me or Eileen?" he asked. "She's here. She's up there at the piano.... Eileen!"
"I need five thousand dollars," said Ryder, "or six to sweeten it."
"Five thousand—six thousand—Dio!" cried Ravenna.
He banged the fat palm of his hand against his forehead.
"Hi, Mike! Mike!" shouted a man in-side the room.
"Politics be damned!" said Ravenna. "But five thousand from me—just now—my God, David, give me a day and I'll find it. Why should I be strapped at the very moment that you need help?"
"Forget it, Mike," said Ryder. "I've had to pay through the nose and a long distance ahead for the detective work that Seelig is doing for me. He takes it in by the thousands. And now I get a sudden call."
"I'll find cash somewhere."
"Don't give it a thought," said Ryder.
"David, who do you think did it?"
"The same hand that killed Brant."
"No!" exclaimed Ravenna.
"Mike! Oh, Mike!" roared several voices in unison.
"I must leave you," said Ravenna. "Go talk to Eileen for a moment, and then I can see you. Go up there and rest your brain, and talk with her."
AN outburst of thunder drowned the piano and the small sweetness of the singing voice as Ryder went up the stairs.
"Shall I bother you, Eileen?" he said. "Mike said I could sit here and look at you. It's a dirty city and a dirty world, except where you and Mike are."
He pulled a chair over to the side of the piano and sank into it.
"You haven't slept, David," she said.
"I don't care about sleeping," he answered. "But do you mind going on playing and singing?... How do you happen to be here with Mike so much?"
"I can't afford to have a real studio; and in a small room my voice doesn't grow, my teacher says. And Mike doesn't mind having me."
He closed his eyes.
"This is the only happy place in the world," said Ryder. "Mind my eyes closed?"
"I don't mind," said Eileen.
She sat down on the side of his chair.
"I'm falling asleep—no, in love," said Ryder.
"No, not yet," she said.
"Soon, please," said Ryder.
"Soon," said the girl, laughing a little.
"No, I'm serious," murmured Ryder.
"And sleepy," she answered. "Shall I sing to you?"
She struck a few notes on the piano and then began to sing an old ballad. After a time he stood up, suddenly.
"I have to go," he said.
She went with him to the door and lifted her face to him.
"Would it be right for me to kiss you goodby, Eileen?" he asked.
She searched his eyes for a moment. Then she shook her head. "No, not yet," she answered.
"But I think one of these days before long," said Ryder.
"I hope so," said the girl.
Ravenna's shouting politicians still detained him and Ryder went to telephone to Seelig.
"Have you found any news of Leslie Carton?" he asked. "When did she come back? Or has she come back at all?"
"We now know. At two in the morning she returned."
Ryder gripped the receiver hard.
"Any details?" he asked.
"No, sir. My man only saw them arrive at the address of her house." "Very well," said Ryder. "What happens about the Brant case?"
"Photographers and newspaper reporters happen. That is all. Hollywood speaks very much of him. Miss Galloway is mentioned, too."
"Where is the Countess Lalo?"
"One moment." After a pause, Seelig answered: "The last report is an hour old. She was still at her hotel. Do you go to see her?"
"I don't know. Marene Sutherland—where is she?"
"Mr. Ryder, I am sorry. I hardly dare to tell you that my two men have missed her. She has disappeared in Boston!"
"She's dead!" said Ryder, with a sudden stroke of intuition. "My God, Seelig, you've let her disappear and now she'll never speak!"
He crashed up the receiver.
He went out to the cigar store and on the corner found Gonelli.
He hailed a taxi. Behind his back, as he got in, he heard Gonelli laughing, and glancing over his shoulder he saw the Italian taking another cab. When Ryder looked back, a dozen blocks later, he saw the taxi of Gonelli still following.
"Pull your car over to the curb," commanded Ryder.
The cab drew up at the side of the street in the middle of the block between a tailor's shop and a fruit stand. Gonelli's cab had gone ahead and it, also, waited by the curb near the corner.
Ryder got out, went to Gonelli's cab, pulled the door open and leaned in.
"I beg your pardon," he said cheerfully. "You're Mr. Gonelli, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I'm Gonelli," the man said.
"I'm glad to know you." said Ryder, holding out his hand.
The hesitation of Gonelli endured only for a moment; then contempt leered out of his eyes as he accepted the hand.
"Yeah, I don't mind..." he began. His words stopped on a grunt as the fingers of Ryder bit into his hand and steadied, gripping deeper and deeper. Amazement overwhelmed the popping eyes of the Italian. He put forth his strength for one vain, shuddering moment; then his hand collapsed under the strain. The knuckle bones ground together and Ryder heard them grinding. Gonelli turned yellow about the mouth with pain.
"If you follow me again," said Ryder, "I'll take you out of your shoes by the hair of your head. Remember that, will you?"
He went back to his car and the driver continued down the street. When he reached the hotel of Millicent, Countess Lalo, he telephoned to her room.
She said: "Oh, Mr. Ryder, how nice! But all the rest have seen you before and you've left me to the very last.... Wasn't it dreadful about Porter Brant?"
"It was frightful," said Ryder. "And will you have lunch with me?"
"But is it as late as that?"
"The morning has just gone jump and away," said the countess. "Come up here and have a drink in my sitting room. I'll be ready in two seconds. What will you drink?"
"Irish whisky," said Ryder.
When he rang the bell of her room, the door was opened by Jimmy Hickey. He shook hands feebly.
"I won't be a burden on you long," said Hickey. "I'm just to stay as a chaperon for a few minutes."
He laughed in his ugly way, reading the face of Ryder for his own purpose.
"Have you got Brant into your column?" asked Ryder.
"No," said Hickey. "I'm too crowded with names that mean something."
Ryder laughed and went to the window for the view until the whisky came.
"You were interested in that air-mail envelope," said Hickey. "Suppose the police should know how interested you were? Might intrigue them, eh?"
"If you thought so. you would have been with them a long time ago to talk your dirt," said Ryder.
The bedroom door opened a little to show the smiling face of the countess
"I'll be right with you," she said. "If Jimmy annoys you, spank him."
"I can't annoy a wooden Indian," said Hickey, and walked out.
"Jimmy!" cried the countess. But the outer door had slammed. "I'm sorry," she said. "I thought he might entertain you for a moment. I'm hurrying."
She left the door a little open. After a time, she called out: "You haven't asked to see my golden angel, David. Here it is."
She held it out to him with a bare arm through the doorway.
"Thanks," said he. "I don't want it, really."
"But you still want me for lunch?"
"Certainly," said Ryder.
For the thing had struck him down to his knees, so to speak. He had located five of the six tokens. Therefore, the one which he carried in his pocket assuredly belonged to Leslie Carton.
Millicent, Countess Lalo, came out.
"I'm hungry, aren't you?" asked Ryder.
"You know what I'm starved for?" she asked. "For spaghetti! I mean, the real Italian, half-raw, rubbery spaghetti with Bolognese sauce or just butter and Parmesan. Do you like that?"
He said that he did, and when they reached the taxicab downstairs she said:
"Shall I take you to my special place? It's terribly down at the heel and nothing but gangsters go to it."
"Let's go to your special place."
"All right. Tony's," she called to the driver.
When they reached Tony's, the fumes of frying fish met them. The countess preferred a private room upstairs.
"It isn't indecent in the middle of the day," she said, as they went up.
"That's true," said Ryder.
The waiter opened a door and gave Ryder a twisting, significant smile.
"This is really quite lovely," said Millicent. "Who would think of New York in a place like this? It might be anything. It might be Naples."
"Yes," said Ryder, "one of those grubby little hotels by the water with green windows painted on the pink walls."
"Oh, I see," said Millicent. "You're a realist, aren't you? But I'm not. Not a bit... I want some vermouth. Some white vermouth, waiter, with ice in it, and a twist of lemon peel, and a squirt of seltzer."
"I'll have a whisky," said Ryder.
"Oh, are you getting tight today?" she asked.
"I don't know. Perhaps," he said.
"Some Scotch whisky. Have you got any that's drinkable?"
"Certainly, sir. For you!"
"Aren't you lovely liars, all you Italians?" asked the girl. "We want a lot of spaghetti, Giulio. You understand. The true Italian. And then some chicken or something and a salad. That's what we want, don't we, David?"
"Perfect," he said. "And some white wine? Some Orvieto, eh?"
"Absolutely to your taste, sir," said he waiter.
They had their aperitifs. Then the spaghetti came on and the countess attacked it with vigor.
"It's good!" she said heartily. "The spaghetti is good, the wine is good, the man is good. Are you good, David?"
"You can see for yourself."
She watched him for a cold, still moment, nodding a little before she began to smile and talk again.
"But, oh, by the way... I've got to telephone!" she said. "Please excuse me one moment, David, will you?"
"Of course," said Ryder, rising.
She gave him a brief smile as she went out the door, and Ryder remained an instant in thought, his head raised, listening. There was a pay phone just down he hall, but though the partitions of these upper rooms were like paper, he could not hear the click of the dropped coin, or the whirring of the dial. He drew the door open. She was not at the telephone. He looked up and down the hall from the back stairs to the bend of the corridor that led toward the front steps; footfalls were crowding up from the back, and Ryder went quickly to the turn of the hall. There, standing flat against the wall, he peered back down the corridor and saw Gonelli with two others climb into view. They went softly to the door of the room which he had just left and Gonelli leaned at it for a moment, listening; and his smile as he listened was one of the deathless memories for Ryder.
He went down the front stairs briskly and into the entrance bar. His lady was not there. But a moment later she came out of the women's room. The sight of him struck her like a bullet, whitening her until her reddened lips looked almost purple.
Ryder said: "Shall we go up and join your friend Gonelli, and the rest?"
Fear pinched the corners of her eyes.
"My poor dear," said Ryder, "I'm afraid that this close air is too much for you. Very few girls can stand it. Let's take a cab and go somewhere else."
The startled waiter came up to him, both hands at work in the air. Ryder gave him money.
"The lady lost her appetite," he said.
In the taxicab, Ryder closed the movable glass partition and leaned back beside the countess. She was shuddering.
"Be easy about it, Millicent," he said. "What's a poor girl to do when there's murder in the air? J.J. Leggett, Brant, and then Ryder. Maybe death will get all the way around that dinner table."
"I want to tell you..."
"I'll listen. Go ahead," said Ryder.
But here she shrank back against him suddenly, and caught up both hands before her face. A car had shot past them on the outside, but all that Ryder could see of it was the back, with the curtain drawn down, by the time he paid attention. He could guess, however.
"Gonelli has an ugly look at times, eh?" he asked her.
"I thought... it was coming... then!" she gasped. "Ah, my God, I'm going to die!"
"Listen to me," he said. "I'm doing nothing. I'm not reporting this to the police. You're not in any danger at all."
She began to draw breath again.
"If the thing had gone through and Gonelli had slipped a handful of lead into me before he went back down those rear stairs, you wouldn't have batted an eye.... Tell me, Millicent. How much did they pay you?"
She shook her head.
"It wasn't pay, then? It was just commands from up above?"
She tried to look away from him, but a magnet of terror drew her eyes back.
"But who, darling?" asked Ryder. "Will you tell me who gave you the commands?"
Her lips parted but they could not speak.
"You got the order even before I telephoned to you?"
She shook her head.
"After I rang, you telephoned to headquarters and got the directions there?"
"How wonderful you are!" said Ryder. "Be a really sweet girl and tell me about things, won't you?"
"Ah, my God, what am I going to do?"
"You're not going to make a scene. You're going to be a brave girl, aren't you?"
She leaned forward, an elbow on her knee, panting. "You're worth all of them. Half an ounce of you is worth all of them. I want to help you, but I can't. I'm afraid! Oh, I'm so afraid that I'm sick. They saw me in this car with you.... What are they thinking?"
"Why, they think and know that I made you come along in order to try to pump you. That's all. If they'd wanted to do you in, they would have done it then—when their car went by. A sub-machine gun chattering for an instant, and we'd both be with the angels, eh? But they wouldn't wipe you out, Millicent. They value you too much. They wouldn't wipe you out even for the sake of getting at me."
"They wouldn't?" she cried. "They'd kill me by inches to get at you! They'd murder me, and laugh, if that would help them to come at David Ryder!"
"It's as bad as that, is it?" he mused.
"Promise me one thing," burst out the girl. "Go away! Go away! Nothing will satisfy them except to have you dead! Listen to me..."
He put out a hand and took both of hers inside it.
"You won't tell me their names?" he asked.
"I can't!" cried the girl.
It was strange to see the cold fear in her eyes while the soft tremor of childish weeping began around her mouth.
"We're almost at your hotel. Take hold of yourself," said Ryder.
After a moment she lay back against the cushion with her eyes half closed.
"Why didn't God make me another sort of a woman?" she asked.
That was all she said before he helped her out of the car at the hotel. As he shook hands he was saying: "You're all right, now. Everything's all right. Goodby, Millicent."
HE rang up several people. Ravenna was the first.
"I'm going to give a big party, Mike, at Francesco's," he said. "I want the remnants of the dinner party my uncle gave."
"You want what?" shouted Ravenna.
"I want all of 'em," said Ryder. "You have a secretary and all that. Will you get him to invite the people? All that will come?"
"I thought that you and Claussen..."
"I know, but I think there's something in the air that will bring them all. Will you have them invited for me, Mike?"
"I've got to do what you tell me, David, but..."
"Tell Eileen to put on her prettiest dress, will you?"
"If I say that to her from you... why, she'll shine like a star, David!"
"God bless her," said Ryder. "She's a sweet thing.... There'll be ten people at the table, unless there's another murder before night. And if I can find Marene."
"I think Marene is back. What are your detectives turning up?"
"Odds and ends. Interesting bits."
"D'you know that I've been shadowed by one of your rascals?"
"Shadowed is the word. Though God knows what he'll get from me except the peeling of a sausage, now and then. About that money, boy..."
"Forget about the money. I don't want to think about it."
"And the golden angels, David?"
"I've traced them all. I've found one part of the murder, I suppose."
"There's more than a woman to the murder, Mike. Speaking of that word, they tried to murder me again this afternoon. At Tony's."
"At Tony's? In broad daylight?"
"The old Gonelli touch. That's all. I'll see you tonight, Mike."
A thundering roar began from Ravenna, but Ryder hung up the phone on the middle of the bellowing.
He rang Sydney Galloway next, at her new address.
She said: "Ah, I knew that I'd be hearing!... Mike's secretary just asked me to your dinner party. Awfully sweet of you, David."
"About the money, Sydney..."
"Yes. What about it?"
Silence answered him, and the throb-bing hum of the wire.
"It mustn't be bad news," said her cold voice. "You mustn't let it be bad, David.... As a matter of fact, I've checked everything up and find that it ought to be seventy-five hundred. I really need that to get in the clear. You won't disappoint me, will you?"
"I'm doing what I can. There's money about and I'll lay my hands on some of it."
"I know you will," said the girl. "You wouldn't be a bad boy, David, would you?"
Leslie Carton came next.
"I'm in bed, David," she said.
"Too much New York."
"Will you go out with me?... Just for a ride with the top of the car down.... A little later, when the day's cooled off a bit."
"I'd like it. I'd love it.... Is it true that you want me for your party to-night?"
"Of course I do," said Ryder. "I'll be there at five something."
WHEN he went back to his uncle's pent house and fell into a chair.
"Look at me, Martin," he said, "and tell me what's the matter."
"The matter is that you've gone on fighting after the gong, sir," said Martin.
"You take a hot bath and go to bed for an hour or two."
He rang Seelig, saying: "Marene Sutherland is back in town, I hear. You had your eyes closed and she got in past your men."
Seelig groaned. "What can one do? People travel like fish under water and like birds through the air. We cannot have eyes everywhere.... Mr. Ryder, I shall watch her now like a ring on my finger.... Your voice is very tired!"
"I'm fagged out, Seelig. But this business won't last much longer. We're near the end, as far as I'm concerned."
"Ah, Mr. Ryder, do you lose the good courage?"
"I'll be dead before I've lost the good courage, Seelig. They're closing in on me fast. Goodby."
He took a hot bath and went to bed. It received him with inexpressible cool softness. He slept.
WHEN Ryder wakened, Martin was sprawled asleep in a chair which he had pulled back against the door. The chair faced the window, and in the lap of Martin lay a heavy automatic. The picture filled a well of emptiness in the heart of Ryder.
A hand tapped lightly on the door. Martin roused with a start, catching the gun before it dropped to the floor.
He rose, opened the door a crack, and whispered.
"For the chief," said the murmur of Gains.
"Sleeping!" whispered back Martin.
"Lady to see him," said Gains.
"To hell with the ladies," whispered Martin.
"This one he's got to see," said Gains.
"Who says so?" asked Martin.
"It's that Durante gal with a Christmas look in her eyes," answered Gains.
"Oh, her? Okay," said Martin.
He turned, saying: "I beg your pardon, sir. But Miss Durante..." Then he saw Ryder grinning as he climbed out of bed.
Ryder put his head under a cold shower and toweled himself vigorously.
"For Miss Durante the world has to stop, eh?" he growled at Martin. "And a man never can have a chance to take his sleep?"
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Martin again. "If it had been anyone else, up to the President...."
"Why should she have a special pass?" demanded Ryder with a still darker frown.
Martin studied him curiously.
"I'm wrong, then," was all he said.
But Ryder began to laugh as he jumped into his clothes.
"You're not wrong," he said. "You're not that wrong."
"I thought not, sir," said Martin.
When Ryder was dressed he said: "Martin, she was my uncle's choice."
"Yes, sir. His choice in the world, for you."
Gains, with extraordinary tact, had placed her in the little French room. Seen with her head down in her straw hat and linen coat, she looked like nothing at all. But when she lifted her head and the slanting afternoon sun got at the gold of her hair, she seemed to Ryder permeable by light, of a different and a finer essence than other human creatures.
She had a rather frightened look, clutching her purse with both hands.
"What's the matter, Eileen?" he asked.
"Uncle Mike told me..." she began. She stopped and faltered.
"All right," said Ryder, sitting down and smiling at her. "Good old Mike told you what?"
"He told me that his heart was broken because you needed money and he had none for you."
"He shouldn't have talked about it," said Ryder.
"He was only talking to me," pleaded Eileen. "Does it make you angry?"
"How could Mike do anything that would make me angry?" asked Ryder.
"He is dear, isn't he?" asked the girl, half laughing in the greatness of her relief.
"He's all of that," said Ryder. "And then?"
"And then I thought," said Eileen Durante. "That is to say, I wondered if..."
"What have you done?" asked Ryder sharply.
She held out the bag to him suddenly with both hands.
"Why, I brought the money!" she cried.
Ryder leaned slowly forward as he demanded: "Five thousand dollars?"
"I have it here!" she cried, and opened the mouth of the purse, laughing with pleasure. "There; you see? It's in hundred-dollar bills! Fifty of 'em. I never saw so much money!"
He took the bag so that it would not be between them.
"You haven't a penny in the world," he said.
"What have you done?"
"I haven't done anything wrong, David!"
"What have you done?" he demanded again, with a hand closing hard about his throat.
"But it's all right. And there's the money you need!" cried Eileen.
"It isn't all right. It's not one damned part of all right. Suppose I dropped dead. Where would you ever get your money back?"
"But what do I care about the silly, silly money, David?"
"Listen to me—Eileen—how did you get this money?"
"It doesn't matter how. It was just perfectly right, that's all. And I have to run to get home, now."
AS she stood up he took her hands and lifted them, and turned them, seriously studying.
"Now I think I know," he said.
She turned her hands into fists.
"You don't know. It isn't true," she cried.
"You had a diamond on that finger; and you had a ruby ring on the other. The stones weren't big enough to blind anyone. But they were worth something, weren't they?"
"They were—they have nothing to do with anything," said Eileen.
"And at home," said Ryder, his voice growing louder, "you had a whole mother's jewel casket full of heirlooms—jeweled pins, and brooches, and the whole category of stuff. That's what you had!"
"Don't talk!" said Ryder. "I feel a little sick."
"David, I never would have worn the old things," she said. "They were perfectly out of date and..."
"You couldn't afford a decent room to sing in. Why? Because the old stuff in the jewel box was sacred. That's all. That's the only reason. Your mother and Aunt Bess had worn it and you remembered it on 'em—and Father's diamond studs, too—or pearls, were they?"
"They were pearls," she said.
"Take this money as fast as you can trot back to the infernal pawnshop.... It was pawned, wasn't it?"
She stared at him.
"You didn't dare to sell it, did you?" cried Ryder.
"David, I only thought...."
"Give me the address," said Ryder.
"What are you going to do?"
"Never mind what I'm going to do. Give me the address!"
"You'd go and buy them back—and break my heart!" said Eileen.
"Tell me where you sold 'em," he said.
"I won't," said Eileen.
"You won't tell me?"
"It's not your business," she cried. "You haven't a right to force me to tell you."
"I'll see about that," said Ryder.
"I don't care. I'll never tell you!" she answered.
"Very well," he said, glaring at her with an ache in his heart. "I have other ways of finding out. Now take this money and put it in a bank."
"You won't use it?"
"I'd rather eat a handful of hell fire."
"Haven't I a right to give you anything I have? Mike loves you. So do I."
"You don't love me," he told her. "I'm not fit for you to love. Take this stuff."
She slipped down into the chair and bowed her face into her hands.
"Eileen, I can't let a woman pick me up when I've fallen and then...."
"David, if I were your wife," said her trembling voice, "would you take it?"
"Stop it, Eileen," he pleaded.
"I love you as much as though I were your wife," she said.
"I'm going to take it," he said.
"Will you?" cried the girl. "Will you?"
He picked the bag out of her lap and emptied it on the table. The sheafs of money, stiff in wrappings of brown paper, fell out in solid chunks.
"I love you for taking it!" said Eileen. "And now I do have to go. Are you happy about it, too? You will be, David, when you see how right it all is."
He took her out to the elevator and when she disappeared into it he remained in curious thought for a moment, remembering the clear, cold childish wisdom with which she had studied him.
WHEN Ryder reached the rooming-house of Leslie Carton, the declining sun was throwing the shadow as far as the picket fence, and above the darkness the upper branches of the chestnut tree burned with a smokeless fire. A maid whose glasses gave her an intellectual look showed him into a little parlor with lace curtains tied back from the open windows. He turned his back on the mournful respectability of that room and leaned on the window sill over the green odor of the lawn.
Then he heard steps descending and wandered into the hall. Leslie Carton waved to him from the head of the stairs. She wore a tailored dress of thin white stuff and a white hat with a peach- bloom lining that gave more color to her brown face. She carried a navy-blue flannel jacket over her arm. He was carrying in his mind the thought of Eileen Durante like an amulet, but her image grew dim and then whirled away among the forgotten things when he saw Leslie.
She came smiling to him and shook hands.
"We're just going to ride and ride?" she said.
"That's it. Do you like that?" he asked.
She said she did and they got into the first open cab that went by, taking it north up the Drive. She said: "You're going to ask me about that dinner token... you've asked all the rest, I know... but it was stolen from me, David."
"Stolen from you? From your purse?"
"No. From my room."
"Ah?" Ryder queried. "Somebody cleaned out your room?"
"No. It was only the golden angel that was taken. There were some other things they might have stolen.... David, what is the importance of the golden angels?"
To whom except to himself could the golden angels have the slightest significance? He smiled at Leslie Carton.
"You don't believe me?" she asked.
"You lie back and rest," said Ryder. "You're tired out. Go to sleep. I'll tell you when to wake up."
Before they reached the George Washington Bridge she was asleep. Ryder leaned and said to the driver: "Go on over the bridge. Here's money for the toll. Don't use your horn. Don't make any sudden stops. The lady's asleep."
After that he moved close to her and slipped his arm over the back of the cushion so that her head rested in the crook of his elbow. She had lied about the golden angel, of course, but even if there had been murder in her, he was happy to have the sleeping face at his shoulder.
They crossed the low, swift arch of the great bridge, wound through the converging battery of highways, and continued up a road through the New Jersey woods, where the hills begin to swell toward the New York border. As the afternoon grew old, a chill wind came across the trees and presently, when he looked at her, the girl was awake.
"You'll need your jacket," said Ryder. "Yes, if you please.... I've slept a long time.... I'm sorry."
He helped her into the coat silently.
"Are you coming to my dinner to-night?" he asked.
"It's impossible, David."
The heart went out of him. He could see all the other faces, and none of them had any meaning for him.
"You ought to sleep again," he said.
"I'm too happy to sleep," she answered. "Will you talk to me?"
"Am I a lost soul, David?"
"In my eyes?"
"Yes. In your eyes."
"You go about with the Italian cut-throat, Gonelli.... You know something about the disappearance of Dorrie Innis... and you've lied to me about the golden angel."
She drew the flannel jacket closer about her. She was silent.
"Turn back to New York," Ryder said to the driver.
THE day began to close, pouring color up the Hudson as they ran back over the George Washington Bridge. She sat up, suddenly, and laid a hand on his arm.
"It's lovely, isn't it?" she said. "And I'll never see it again!"
"With you, I mean."
"It's the last time we're together?" asked Ryder.
"You'll never waste yourself on me again," she told him. "Tomorrow you'll think it over. You'll remember that I didn't lift a finger to make an answer. Then you'll be ashamed. Then you'll be proud. After that I'll be only a dead thing in your mind. Isn't that true?"
"Perhaps it is," said Ryder. "...Leslie, did you ever love a man?"
She looked away from him as though she needed to search her memory.
"Yes," she said at last.
"Be big-hearted, Leslie, and tell me about the blighter, will you?"
"He's big," said the girl, and paused.
Gonelli's large frame dawned sharp on the brain of Ryder.
"With a rather hard look. Do you mind that in a man?"
"Go on," said Ryder.
"I don't know where to go from there."
"We're only a block from the house," he warned.
But though her lips were parted for the next word, she said no more as they dismounted and went up the path toward the porch. He still was expectant when she held out her hand.
"It was a lovely ride," she said. "Goodby."
"We'll let it go with his name, then," he said.
"His name is David," she said, and the door closed slowly and latched.
AS Ryder dressed, he said to Martin: "You know the people who will be at my party tonight. Which of them could do a murder?"
"Miss Sutherland could do anything for fear; Miss Durante from obedience; Mrs. Claussen for money and her husband the same; Miss Galloway from boredom; Countess Lalo through real hate; Mr. Hickey from malice; and Mr. Ravenna—"
"Yes, sir. I merely was going to say: For political reasons, sir."
"Do you mean that you think every one of the eight of them would be capable of murder, Martin?"
"How well do you drive a car?"
"It is my avocation, sir."
"Where were you trained?"
"Running rum from Canada, sir."
"Get that light car of my uncle's. You'll drive me tonight," said Ryder. "And when we get to Francesco's, I want you to take a table in one of the side aisles—anywhere so that you can watch my party. Keep an eye on them. Something may happen. I don't know what. But my trust is that when I juggle so many depth bombs together, one of them may explode and blow up the whole lot."
Martin bowed. "I shall be close by."
When the car stopped at Francesco's, Ryder went to the bar and found Mike Ravenna overflowing one of the high chairs. He turned his rosy face to Ryder and exclaimed: "Here he is! Get Francesco, somebody! Get Francesco!... Sit down here, David. The rest of them will drift in. Do your drinking before Hickey has a chance to put poison in the glass. Here's Francesco now."
Francesco came hobbling on feet flattened by fifty years of "waiting." He gave to Ryder a moist, cold hand.
"You give the party for nine, this evening?" he said. "But why didn't you tell me that Mr. Ravenna was one of them?"
"He won't let old Mike break a way for him through the crowd," said Ravenna.
"I have a surprise for you, tonight," said Francesco.
"In the kitchen, I hope," said Ravenna.
"No, on the stage."
"I don't care for what happens on the stage," said Ravenna.
"But you'll look at the stage tonight," chuckled Francesco.
"Now what the devil do you mean, Francesco?" asked Mike Ravenna.
"A little surprise; that's all. For Mr. Ryder's party and specially for you, Mr. Ravenna. Don't ask me any questions. Good appetite... and good night!"
He went away as the Claussens entered the bar. Ryder gave his hand to tall Elspeth and a word to Claussen. While the cocktails were coming up, she said to Ryder: "I had to work hard to get Eric to come. But here he is. It was nice of you to want him."
"He looks happier, tonight," said Ryder.
"Of course," she answered. "Haven't you heard?"
"Not a word."
"He's plunged again. Yesterday. On 'Carom' at five to one. Starting at thirty-to-one, and beating the odds down all the way. So we're rich, today.... Oh! here's Eileen—and Jimmy, and Millicent, and Sydney; and, for heaven's sake, here's Marene Sutherland. Marene, darling, where have you been all this while?"
Marene had made up with care but the damage told in her eyes and her cheeks. She gave to Ryder a brittle smile and barely touched his hand.
He murmured: "Marene. will you talk tonight?"
She answered, loudly: "Oh. I've been resting—that's all, David!"
But she hated him, suddenly, with her eyes; and he knew that fear was still with her. Whatever she knew, it was double-locked in her breast, now. Jimmy Hickey had commenced to rattle in his venomous way.
"Ah, David," he said. "Here we have you again, the man of many souls, or should I say, of many shadows?"
Sydney Galloway drew near to Ryder, murmuring: "I know you've arranged everything, David."
"I've had to scratch around a great deal," he answered, "but I've managed to put my hands on five thousand."
"Only five?" she sighed. "Well, I expect that it will fit into this bag."
"You don't expect me to carry that much around with me at night, do you?"
"Well, shall we be explicit?" asked the girl, rather sharply. "Shall we say to-morrow morning, before ten?"
"Tomorrow morning before ten," said Ryder.
"You're such a good sport about it, David," she told him, letting her smile come through. "But of course we all know a man when we see one.... Doesn't it look like a jolly party this evening?"
Then they went in to the table. Bombo's orchestra was doing strange things to a piece of jazz as Ryder settled them at the table. He looked carefully among the cheaper tables in the side aisles without seeing the face of Martin, but at last he spotted the alert back and the high head of the Frenchman.
On the stage a tumbler vainly tried to win the eye of the audience; a gong sounded with a soft reverberation; the unlucky athlete crept away into the wings.
Mike Ravenna began an anecdote about old days in Vienna, so that all eyes at the table were drawn to him and only Ryder saw the next entertainer come on the stage. She was a pretty girl with an arch to her eyebrows that gave her a naive expression, and a tousled head of auburn hair. The orchestra at once struck up an old fox-hunting tune while she sang the words and tap-danced. Only the booming voice of Ravenna held the group at Ryder's table until Claussen suddenly jumped up from his chair and cried out: "It's Dorrie! My God, it's Dorrie come back to us!"
As the song came to the chorus, the music muted and the girl hushed her singing to a husky murmuring which nevertheless was perfectly audible throughout the place. The guests of Ryder had turned to stone. Countess Lalo, clutching Ryder's arm, clung to him and moaned: "It's Dorrie! It is Dorrie! Or her ghost! She sang that same song here a year ago!"
The song ended with the entertainer dancing off into the wings.
"It's Dorrie or her ghost!" cried Claussen, and started on a run among the tables to get to the stage. Except Ravenna, the rest followed.
Ryder followed them. Behind the stage, he found Claussen demanding Francesco of a waiter.
"Mr. Francesco has gone home, sir," said the waiter.
"Then—Miss Innis. Where is she?"
"She is in her dressing room, sir."
"Take us to her, will you?"
"Mr. Claussen, I am very sorry, but the rules of Mr. Francesco... it is not really a theater any more!"
Claussen stuffed money into the man's hand.
"Now go on and take us to her, will you?" he asked.
The waiter hesitated. He had a starved, whimsical face, and now he lifted his eyebrows as he tried to make up his mind. His fingers kept gathering and loosing the bills.
Ryder heard Marene Sutherland say: "There's something wrong... I think I'm going to faint!"
"Well," said the waiter, "I suppose I'll lose my place tomorrow. But come this way, please."
They went back to a long alley of dressing rooms, and the waiter asked of a burly man in a sweater: "Miss Innis in here, Jack?"
"Yeah. Number seven. Whatta all these want?" answered Jack.
"All friends," said the waiter.
"Friends, eh?" said Jack, and laughed a little. "How they come to barge back in here, anyway?"
The waiter already was tapping at the door. He received no answer.
"I knew!" whispered Marene Sutherland. "She's gone!"
"She had just the same clothes," Elspeth Claussen was saying. "Down to the same buckles on her shoes. Did you notice?"
Ryder lifted his head suddenly, when he heard that.
"She's not in?" asked Claussen of Jack.
"Ah, she's in all right," said Jack.
He approached the door with authority and banged his fist on it.
"Hey, Miss Innis!" he called when the rap went unheeded.
Then he turned to the others.
"That's kind of a funny gag, ain't it?" he asked.
"What's the matter?" asked Ryder. "She's not in there?"
"Not in there? Sure. She's gotta be in," said Jack. "Hey, Miss Innis!"
He banged heavily on the door again.
"Break that door down," commanded Ryder. "There's something wrong. Break it down or unlock it. Have you got a key?"
Jack was already fitting it into the lock. Then he pushed the door open and they looked in on an empty dressing room with the powerful electric light oscillating slowly on its cord.
"It was her ghost! It was her ghost!" breathed Marene Sutherland.
Ryder went in and tried a door at the back of the room. It gave at once under his hand onto a dusty, unlighted passage.
"Hey, I forgot about that!" said Jack. "Did she take the old back way out? Wait till I ask at the door!"
He hurried off at a run. The others of Ryder's party filed slowly into the room and looked gloomily around at the green paint, the naked boards, as though they were inspecting some ancient Egyptian tomb.
Jack came back to them, sweating, laughing.
"Yeah, she sneaked out on us," he said. "She went out five minutes ago, the doorman says."
"When did she come here?" asked Ryder. "Did you see her?"
"Sure I saw her. She came in all made up for the stage," said Jack.
"Where's Francesco?" demanded Claussen.
"Maybe at his home, sir," said the waiter.
They went back into the restaurant.
"What do you make of it?" asked Ryder of Elspeth Claussen.
"I don't know. It makes me a little weak in the knees. I don't believe in ghosts...."
The orchestra was thundering into a new jazz piece as they returned to the table.
Ryder went to Ravenna and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"What in the world has happened?" he asked.
Ravenna lifted a white face that shone with sweat, and grief, and horror.
"Did you know about this, David?" he asked.
"About Dorrie reappearing? Not a word!" said Ryder.
Ravenna got himself to his feet, using both hands on the edge of the table.
"I'm going home," he said. "Have we seen a ghost? I'm going home...."
"I'll take you along, Uncle Mike. You look sick," said Eileen.
"Goodby, Ryder," called Hickey. "I've got to get this into print while it's hot."
The whole party ran suddenly through the fingers of Ryder.
The Claussens went out with Millicent and Sydney Galloway.
Elspeth Claussen was saying: "I'm sorry, David, but I need about twenty-four hours to recover.... It isn't like Dorrie."
"If she came back to town, she would have let us know. She wouldn't have dropped a bomb on us from the stage, this way," said Millicent. "I think I'm going out of my mind!"
Ravenna murmured to Ryder: "Can a fat man be in love, David? I think I loved her... and she's come to life and gone again!"
"Why, it was only a trick of hers," said Ryder. "A joke on all of you! She'll be on the phone by the time you get home."
"David, I'll never lay eyes on her again, I fear," said the Italian, and went slowly out from the place with Eileen Durante beside him. She gave Ryder a frightened smile over her shoulder; and then they were all gone.
He paid the bill and went to the side table where Martin sat. He slumped down into a chair, heavily.
Martin did not rise. He simply poured himself another glass of wine and swallowed it off. In his thin, sallow face his eyes had enlarged.
"Did you see?" asked Ryder.
"Yes, sir," said Martin.
"My whole table of guests scattered like a bomb?"
"What were you watching, then?"
"Gonelli, sir. He was down there at that table—where the wine is spilled across the table. You see?"
"What about Gonelli?"
"When he saw the girl on the stage, he slid out of his chair onto his knees."
"Got down on his knees?"
"And covered his face with the napkin that's on the floor, there."
"Martin, have you any idea what it all means?"
"I can't guess, sir. I've seen Miss Innis. I've heard her singing. All I know is that I never saw her dance so well."
"You watched her dancing?" asked Ryder. "You've just said you did. Then you had an eye on her feet?"
"Notice anything about her slippers?"
"No, sir. Except that they were red and fitted with big, square, diamond buckles."
"Ah!" said Ryder. He was remembering the buckles which he had found wrapped in tissue paper in the dresser drawer, with the engraved ring beside them. "Do you know anybody that resembles Miss Innis?"
"Not particularly, sir."
"Think it over. Is Miss Carton close at all?"
"No," said Martin. Then he started and added: "In a wig, with a few things done to her face... yes, sir!"
"Maybe I'm crazy, Martin," said Ryder. "But we're going to Miss Carton's house and talk to her if we can."
THEY went out to the little white, old-fashioned house with Martin jumping the car like a running animal through the traffic.
"Gonelli on his knees!" said Martin.
"On his knees!" muttered Ryder. "A blind man would start guessing at dirty work, eh?"
"Yes, sir," said Martin, overrunning a red light.
"But what is the tie-in? Dorrie Innis and Leslie Carton... Gonelli..." muttered Ryder. "Have they all something to do with my uncle's death?... Martin, was my uncle very often with Miss Innis?"
"Whenever he could be, sir," said Martin.
Ryder stared at the valet; then he looked forward up the glimmer of the street. He was remembering the J.J. inside the ring.
"What did she look like? Like Leslie Carton, you say?"
"They are simply the same type. She was not as beautiful as Miss Carton and she was not so intelligent."
"Do you think Dorrie Innis is alive?"
"I know that she's not, sir."
"You know that she's dead?"
"In what way do you know that? In what way can you know it?"
"She's not the sort of person who would disappear."
He slowed the car, approaching the block in which was the little white rooming-house.
"Go on to the corner," directed Ryder. "I'll get out there and walk. Lock the car and come back. Stay across the street, somewhere near that apartment house. And keep your eyes open."
Ryder dismounted at the corner. He walked back slowly down the block. He waited a moment at the gate, looking in over the lawn. Dim paths of light silvered it. The wind rushed in the chestnut tree like a coming storm.... Leslie Carton was a closed house to which he lacked the key.
He opened the gate and went to the front door of the house. As he rang the bell, he looked right and left. The thought of Gonelli kept stealing up on him out of the darkness.
A middle-aged rosy-faced woman opened the door. She thought Miss Carton was in and would see, she said, leaving Ryder in the front room. A moment later she returned.
"Sorry I was wrong." she said. "Miss Carton is out, after all."
"I'll leave a message for her," said Ryder.
He scribbled on a card: "Please change your mind. It may be important for you."
He gave the card to the landlady.
"I'll see that she has it when she comes in," she said.
"I'll wait here for the answer. I only want her for a moment," he added, smiling.
"Well—" said the landlady. At last she laughed and answered: "It's none of my business, is it?"
"It is, though," said Ryder. "You have to do the climbing."
She was still laughing halfway up the stairs.
Afterward, he stood in the doorway, listening, looking at footmarks on the hall runner, at the hats on the rack, at the green plush seats of the chairs in the parlor across the hall. It seemed to him that the air lived with knowledge that he needed like breath in his nostrils.
At last the footfalls began, and only one pair of them descended. His heart sank. There was the smiling landlady in the doorway, saying: "Sorry, Mr. Ryder... but she asks you to wait another moment."
She laughed and went away a step, and came back again to say, "All girls are dreadful little liars, aren't they?"
"Aren't they!" said Ryder, and was glad to laugh with her. The tight shudder of nervousness passed away with the breath of it.
She disappeared. A light, steady footfall came down the stairs. Leslie Carton stood in the doorway as he never had seen her before. She was stone-pale. He realized suddenly that for the first time he saw her grave without even that faint smile which the Greek sculptors loved.
"I was very tired," she said. "That was why I said that I was out."
"I know," he answered. "Tap dancing must take a lot out of you."
This answer she considered with her straight, steady eyes for a moment. She had grown paler still.
"I didn't recognize you," he said. "It was Martin."
"Did the others know?" she asked.
"I think not."
She sighed. Her whole body loosened with relief.
"They were all in a panic," said Ryder. "The shock of it turned them sick. Nobody remained with me at the table."
"Not even Hickey?" she asked.
"He rushed to get it into print. Martin watched Gonelli. Did you know that he was there?"
"Yes," she said.
He went on: "Gonelli, when he saw you, dropped to his knees behind his table as though he were afraid of the ghost."
"Did he do that?" she murmured.
"Then he got out of the place on the jump."
She nodded again.
"You're not saying what it all means?" he asked.
"I can't talk," she said.
"You're as brittle as ice," said Ryder. "At a touch you might go all to pieces. Will you let me stay with you a while?"
"I have to be alone."
"I'll go," he said.
"Until tomorrow morning. Will you ring me up then?"
"As early as I may."
"At eight... at seven... I don't care when. Will you ring me?"
"I shall. Leslie, what are you doing between this time and the morning?"
"I don't know," she answered.
"You know but you won't tell me," he said.
He listened to his own harsh breathing.
"But now you want me to go?" he asked.
"Leslie, you're sick with fear. What is it?"
She held up her hands so that they passed around his neck as he took her in his arms. And even in the taking of her he noticed a casual and practiced air, he thought, as though she were in a stage scene, a mere rehearsal. Or perhaps it was only the fatigue that comes with long strain and that let her head fall back against his arm now.
"Tomorrow morning?" she said.
"Yes. I'll telephone.... Arguing with you now will do no good?"
She shook her head.
"I'll go, then," he said, and pulled his arms away from her.
He went quickly, hurrying down the path a half dozen steps from the house until something stopped him. When he turned, he saw that she was still on the threshold looking after him. Then the swinging edge of the door darkened the picture.
RYDER joined Martin, who stood back in the shadow against the shoulder of the tall apartment house.
"She saw you, sir?" said Martin. "I didn't think she would."
Ryder looked at him. At last he said: "She intends to leave that house tonight, I believe. We're going to watch it. Is that clear?"
"Have you noticed anything since you were standing here?"
"One of Seelig's men blundering around like a fool on the other side of the street, and once he jumped over the picket fence. I suppose because he wanted to leave his footprints in the garden."
"I'm going inside to telephone. Keep your eyes open till I come back. If anything stirs across the street, run in and call me."
He gave a last look at the faint glimmer of the white house between the two tall buildings across the way. Then he turned into the lobby of the apartment house. The night switchboard operator surveyed him a moment and then nodded him to a phone in the corner of the hall. He could speak there with fair privacy, so he called Seelig. The German yawned heavily into his mouthpiece.
"This is Ryder," he said. "Is there news?"
"The whole party that went to Francesco's with you...."
"I don't care about them. Except Gonelli. What did Gonelli do?"
"Just a moment, sir. Here it is. Gonelli is, or was, in an Italian bar, drinking Strega. That thick, sweet, sticky Italian cordial. Do you know it, Mr. Ryder?"
"Damn the cordials. What have you found out about Miss Carton?"
"A very usual story, Mr. Ryder."
"What is it?"
"The girl from the small country town who comes to the big city...."
"A little town in Massachusetts called Regis. My operatives talked with several people. The Cartons are well esteemed. A good family. Came to America before seventeen hundred. The father, a lawyer, often called to Boston. A man with a good head. The mother dead. She left Regis ten or eleven months ago and came to New York. In Regis she rode well, played golf and tennis. Amateur theatricals...."
"MR. RYDER!" breathed the voice of Martin beside him.
He hung up the receiver and hurried out. When he reached the sidewalk, Martin drew him into the shadow.
"Gonelli went to the door of the house," said Martin.
"And when it was opened, they slammed it again in his face," said Ryder, speaking out of his heart.
"I didn't see," said Martin. "I came for you."
"You don't know whether he's inside the house?"
"You told me to come for you at once."
"That's true," groaned Ryder. "Is that the car he came in?"
A long, low-hung automobile stood by the curb across the street.
"He came in that," nodded Martin.
"Is there anyone else in it?"
"Perhaps in the back seat. I don't know. There was only Gonelli in front."
"Go up to the corner. Start the motor of our machine. If I give you a signal, come as fast as you can."
Martin went up the street. His dim figure crossed the pavement and then disappeared. Afterward the nose of the car slid into view and stopped.
Something flashed across the way, from the shadowy face of the white house. There was Gonelli in tails holding the door wide open and past him walked Leslie Carton with her face raised to him, laughing, and the furred collar of her evening cloak thrown back.
There was enough street light to show the leer of Gonelli as he handed the girl into the car. When he got into the driver's seat, Ryder, straining his eyes, could see no one in the rear seat.
The car started quietly, stepped with smooth fluctuations into second and third. Ryder waved his hand and watched Martin coming fast. He ran out into the street and Martin took him on the right side of the car.
"Go after them!" commanded Ryder.
"They have cops around, this time of night," said Martin.
Ryder threw himself back against the cushion.
"Do it your own way," he said.
The way of Martin was infinitely smooth. He changed the coupé into a hunting cat that stalked through the traffic behind Gonelli's sedan with the thickness of the crowd screening it. But in the congested theatrical district their quarry slipped away from them.
"Go home," said Ryder, after he was sure that Gonelli could not be found. "Wait there till I call you."
THE crowd pushed Ryder back and forth before he thought of his next step. He got to a phone and reached Seelig.
"Where's everyone?" he asked.
"They scattered like birds," said Seelig. "Miss Carton with Gonelli—"
"They went off like a skyrocket and my man couldn't follow them, Mr. Ryder."
"Everybody else went home?"
"Marene Sutherland double-locked her door and doesn't answer the telephone."
He hung up and telephoned to Ravenna. The voice of Eileen Durante answered. She said: "Uncle Mike isn't here for the moment, but he'll be right back.... Come quickly. I have tremendous news for you! I have the most wonderful news in the world for you!"
"What is it, Eileen? What's it about?"
"You can't guess. It's like nothing in the world. Will you come?"
"I'll come," he said. And he took a cab straight out across town to Ravenna's house.
RYDER went up to the music room. The girl saw him but she finished the last notes of her song, lifting them into a triumph before she came hurrying toward him with something she had snatched from the top of the piano held behind her back.
"I have to see Mike," he told her. "Do you know where he's gone?"
"I don't know. Only that he'll be back soon," she said. "But what have I for you, David? What's my surprise?"
"I can't guess," he said.
"You have to guess," she commanded.
"Well, it's paper of some sort. Jimmy Hickey's last column, perhaps?"
"It's a thousand times more than that. It's something that belongs to you, and I found it. You'll never know where. You'll never guess where... but—look!"
She held before him a stiff fold of paper and as he opened it she still was laughing.
"I've read it, too," she said. "I had to read it to know what it was, and it made me sorry for poor Uncle Mike; but then I know that you'll never let him starve, anyway. So why should I be sorry for him? Why should I be sorry for anyone? I'm only happy for you, David!"
His eye was running swiftly through the single typewritten page of the last will and testament of John James Leggett. It was so brief because there were so few legatees. To Martin, to Estey and to Gains went legacies of twenty thousand dollars each. Not a single one of the dinner guests was mentioned; not even Ravenna! The entire residue of the estate was the inheritance of "my beloved nephew, David Ryder."
Thirty millions—forty millions, the lawyer had said. Not mere wealth but a kingdom. Ryder stuffed the long fold of paper into his pocket while his mind flew out at a blank random over the labyrinth of New York's streets. Leslie was out there somewhere—and Gonelli.
"Eileen, how in the world did you find it?" he asked.
"Don't ask me till tomorrow," said the girl. "I've sealed my mouth tight. I can't speak till tomorrow."
She came up to him with a sudden concern.
"What is it, David?" she asked. "What's made you so unhappy? It's as though I'd only found an old button on the floor and given it to you!... What can be wrong, David?"
"I don't know," he answered, frowning. "You've made me rich, Eileen. But I seem to be numb. I can't even thank you."
"Something has filled up your mind," she said. Her voice went hard and clear, and she searched him with narrowing, cold eyes. "It's a woman, isn't it?"
The change in her startled Ryder so that he looked down at the floor, incredulous of what he had seen.
"I suppose that's it," he said.
Her voice changed to its usual sweetness but now, with his ear attuned to every modulation, it seemed to Ryder that he detected a little tremor of restraint or of effort.
"David, is it a grand passion? Is it something you never can recover from?"
"I'll never change from it," he said, still looking down.
She broke out with a hard, ringing anger.
"It's a Millicent, or a Leslie, or a sweet Sydney," she said. "Tell me which one, David. Which one is going to make a fool of you?"
She caught her breath, as he looked suddenly into her face.
"I didn't mean that!" she cried. "Please forgive me, David."
"Why, Eileen, you're a bit excited, that's all. And I've been an ungrateful dog, a dumb beast!"
"I thought we were such friends, and so close! And now you're millions of miles and ages away from me."
She stared at him with pitiful, great eyes, her hands clasped.
Ryder said: "Eileen, you're wonderful."
"Wonderful?" she asked, struck suddenly out of her trance.
"Wonderful... a great actress," said Ryder. "And you came close to getting an encore from me. So damned close!"
"David, what are you saying to me?" she whispered, her mouth softening to childhood.
He laughed a little.
"It's no good, Eileen," he told her. "An instant ago you let me see through you."
She was nothing but amazement, agape and staring and hurt.
He asked: "Eileen, when did you get that will? Was it the night of the murder? Was that when?"
The bludgeoning words, instead of cowing her, made her stand straighter.
She nodded a little. "You're not quite a fool, are you, David?" she said.
"That's right," said Ryder. "Be your natural self, my dear."
Rage suddenly mastered her and set her glaring. She could not speak.
"That stroke of the five thousand dollars... that was a great conception, Eileen," he said. The anger had gone from her. She was smiling.
"It was, wasn't it?" she answered. "I thought that was good. But I spoiled it all just now."
"One only needs a small keyhole to see a great room, you know."
"It shows that one has to be patient to the last," she agreed, picking up a cigarette.
He lighted it for her. She lifted her eyes with a smile.
"Life is so short, and art is so long," sighed Eileen. "The next time I try, I'll be patient to the very altar, David."
"Poor old Mike!" muttered Ryder. "Not a penny for him in the will! It will crack his fat heart right open. Not the loss of the money but the fact that my uncle could change like that!"
"I wonder," she murmured. "Are you going to tell him at once?"
"No. I'll wait a decent time. You're not sponging on him, are you?"
"Not very much."
"Eileen," he asked, "what started you... this way?"
"The gifts that God gave me, when I saw them in the mirror. By the time I was sixteen I knew that the baby face would last a long time. Well, I used to cry myself asleep. But then I decided that I would be a fool to turn my back on my fortune, and I've been in training ever since.... It isn't so easy. Actresses usually just have to learn their lines and do them. But I have to compose mine as I go along. You know."
"Very hard." said Ryder. "To be so naive; and yet show a touch of woman in the child, too."
"Singing to you, too.... The old ballad.... That was a rather good bit.... I think the heart of David went pitter- patter once or twice, didn't it?"
"Except that you were such a sleepy pig"
"I was just making myself at home," he said, grinning.
"I saw the entire future, with you in slippers at the fire," she said. "And darling Eileen pouring your Scotch and soda."
"How long before you would have put something in the drink?" he asked.
"Never, I think," she said. "For forty millions I think I could have been adorable for forty years, at least."
"Eileen, there's murder behind this will in my pocket."
"You know there is."
"Do you know something, David?"
"I'm beginning to, I hope," he said.
"The moment you saw through me, I really began to love you quite a lot."
"That's sweet of you," said Ryder. "Suppose we go back to my uncle."
"Do we have to? He was a frightfully soggy old bore about girls."
"I know. The last time I saw him, there were six golden angels around his table.... But speaking of murder—if you could talk, and tell me something worth while..."
"I'd see that you were safe," he told her. "And I'd be willing to pay you thirty or forty thousand dollars."
"Oh, would you?"
"Would I have to stay, or could I run like the wind the moment I had talked?"
"You could run like the wind."
"David, I always knew that something good would come out of you. But let's speak in a rounder number. Say fifty thousand?"
"Will you talk?" Ryder asked. "For fifty thousand?"
"Just give me a breathing spell," she said. "I have to think it over. I ought to think it over till the morning."
The telephone rang just beside him and he picked it up absently.
"I think I shall talk—and right now," said Eileen.
"Hello? Hello? Mr. Ravenna?" asked a familiar voice.
"I'll take a message," said Ryder.
"Con chi parlo?" demanded the speaker.
"Mr. Ravenna..." began Ryder.
"Ah!" said the other. "Gonelli is here now."
"Where?" demanded Ryder.
"Con chi parlo?" shouted the voice again.
"I'll take the message for—"
The receiver at the other end of the line went up with a crash.
"Trouble?" asked the girl.
He looked at her vaguely. That Italian voice had rung in his ear not so long ago. Gonelli was there; and where Gonelli was, the girl must be.
Eileen said: "If you let people know before morning that you have the real will..."
"If it's known that I have this in my pocket, you'll be murdered?" he interrupted.
"Just like that," she said. "I'm ready to tell you the story, now."
"I have it!" cried Ryder, and whirled toward the door.
"Good luck, dear. And I hope your hide is bulletproof!" she called. "You won't stay to hear me?"
"Tomorrow morning," he answered.
He fled down the hall, down the stairs, and out onto the street. At a run, he went up the block, and turned down into the first avenue. Luck brought him a taxi that he hailed from a distance, and as he swung in through the open door, he called: "Do you know Tony's restaurant?"
"Yeah, and what of it?" asked the driver. "It ain't open this time of night, I guess."
"Go to Tony's!" Ryder said. "And go fast. I'll take my chance."
For he thought he had recognized on the telephone the voice of the waiter who served him and Millicent at Tony's restaurant only a day or two before.
THREE lights starred the front of Tony's but all one side of the restaurant on the first floor was darkened. It was late.
"Yeah, you see it's a bust," said the driver.
But Ryder stepped out onto the pavement.
He rang the bell and listened to the jangle inside. He waited. He rang again. The light inside the clouded glass of the door brightened and a footfall approached. That same Giulio of the twisting smile pulled the door open and peered out at him.
"Mr. Ryder?" he said. "Come in, sir."
Ryder paid the driver and went into the restaurant.
"Is there a lady here?" asked Ryder.
"Yes, sir. Certainly, sir," said Giulio.
"A friend of Gonelli's?" asked Ryder.
"She is, sir. Do you wish to join them? This way, if you please. The same room you were in the other day, Mr. Ryder."
He led the way, half-turning to keep his back from the guest. The lines about his mouth seemed to deepen with a smile. They climbed the stairs and passed down the corridor above. The voice of Leslie Carton laughed somewhere ahead of them, and the heart of Ryder stopped. Giulio pushed open the door to the private room, saying: "A friend to see you!"
Ryder came in with all his muscles prepared for shock—and saw before him, across the table from Leslie, not Gonelli but the rotund bulk, the rosy, smiling face of Ravenna!
He leaned a hand against the wall and stared again.
"Hi, David!" shouted Ravenna. "I'm glad to see you! What do you think I found down here? That triple-ply rat of a Gonelli had dared to take Leslie down here to the bottom of the world. I walked in and found them chattering in here as chummy as a pair of squirrels. Sit down, my boy!"
"They reached you, then?" asked Ryder. "I was at your house when Giulio telephoned."
He sat down. His brain had been so set for Gonelli's long, handsome, brutal face that he could not adjust his thinking to the enormous bulk of Ravenna.
It was easier to look at Leslie Carton and to wonder at that mysterious Providence which enables a girl to smile through everything, as she was smiling now with an almost sleepy calm.
If Ravenna was there, everything must be all right, and yet everything was not all right.
His heart began to beat with such force that he was afraid his lips were trembling.
"So Giulio telephoned to my house while you were there?" Ravenna was saying. "He telephoned everywhere. Like a good boy, eh, Giulio?"
He laughed up at the waiter.
"Get something for Mr. Ryder to eat," he directed.
"I don't want anything," said Ryder. "I'll have a glass of that red wine."
The waiter disappeared.
"Now, help me talk to this silly girl, will you?" said Ravenna. "If she will come here with a Gonelli, she'll go to hell with the devil himself. What d'you see in the vulgar brute, Leslie? Speak up, now. I can see Ryder's punch-drunk, not able to understand.... But she only laughs, David. You see and hear for yourself how she only laughs when I talk about that Gonelli, that throat- cutter!"
"Elia's not as bad as all that," said the girl, shaking her head, smiling at them. "And he has verve. He's so vain, and so important, and really so charming, in his own way."
"Just a big, good-hearted lad," said Ravenna. "A little blood on his hands, but what of that?"
"What happened to him?" asked Ryder.
"What happened to him? Why, what do you think would happen?" demanded Ravenna. "I ran the rascal out of the room and out of the restaurant."
"And he knew his master's voice," said Leslie Carton, looking earnestly at the Italian. It seemed to the strained nerves of Ryder that he saw a shadow settling deep in her eyes.
Ravenna emptied his wine glass, leaned back in his chair and sighed. A drop of the wine commenced to run down toward his chin.
"You know, David," he said, "I have to have men of different kinds. A good man for good work. A bad man for bad work. And this Gonelli—well, I don't like to talk about him. I never used his knife, but I've used his hand in certain dark corners. Bah! I'll never wash the thought of him out of my mind if I drink a whole barrel of wine. When I speak to him, I smell rats in an old attic."
From the point of his chin he rubbed off the wine drop on the back of his hand. It made a long, thin, purple smear.
"Before I leave you tonight, Leslie," he went on, "I'm going to make you promise never to see Elia again. You hear me?"
"But that would insult him," she answered.
"What's the brute for except for insults?" asked Ravenna. "Eh, David? You've seen his face. And that's enough. Leslie, do you hear me? The saying goes that the beast of a Gonelli hired a murderer to shoot David down. Ah, that changes your color a little, does it?"
"Did he do that?" murmured the girl, staring at Ryder.
"So it's said," answered Ryder.
"But who said so?"
"A fellow who was sitting on the pavement with a broken leg," said Ryder.
"I don't understand you," answered Leslie Carton, almost angrily.
"A short, thick, big, chunky man," said Ryder. "His name was—no, I think I promised not to use his name."
The smiling of Ravenna ended. He listened with a set eagerness.
"But what had happened?" asked the girl.
"He was trailing me. I got Martin to trail him. We had a little mix-up in an alley. Martin smashed his shinbone for him. That's all. After a while he talked a little."
"What makes you so thoughtful about it?" asked Leslie, looking at Ravenna, seeming to forget what Ryder had said.
"I was just trying to think," said Ravenna. "I was trying to place a man like that. I've seen some of Gonelli's thugs. Did he have blond hair that glistened?"
"I don't know," lied Ryder. "Let the thing go. But I've had a happy surprise that you ought to see, Mike."
He took the will from his pocket and passed it to Ravenna.
The Italian lighted a cigarette and let his eyes drift sleepily through the document. He pushed it back to Ryder, and shrugged his fat shoulders.
"You young devils have all the luck," he said. "When I need money, I'm going to borrow like the very devil from you, David."
"Of course you are. And you're going to get at least fifty cents on the dollar," said Ryder, grinning at him.
"But the whole thing? Ah hi! John, John, John! You might have had a thought for my old age."
He turned up melancholy eyes toward the ceiling, but laughter overwhelmed him at once and he broke into a hearty roar.
"Let's get out of here," said Ryder.
"As soon as the coffee comes," said Ravenna. "You know I can't move without a stimulant of some sort.... He's robbed me of twelve or fifteen millions, Leslie. He's taken it out of my pocket, confound him."
Ryder, putting a hand on his thick arm, could not help smiling as he said: "If you're going to be sad about it, I'll have to give it all back!"
He restored the will to his pocket.
"Ah, well," said Ravenna, "wouldn't I be a fool to take on the burden, after all? Why not let David have all the responsibility and we'll simply help him do the spending."
The girl laughed, but broke off to say: "If I'm going back, I must telephone first. Or they'll have the house locked up."
She rose and Ravenna rose with her.
"I'll take you to the phone," said Ravenna.
"But it's just down the hall," she protested. "Stay where you are, Mike."
"It's just down the hall," agreed Ravenna. "But that werewolf, that Gonelli, may be just down the hall, also."
Here the waiter, entering, served the coffee, and Ravenna picked up his cup to take with him. He said to David: "Pay the bill, rich man!" and left the room behind the girl.
From the threshold, Leslie looked back toward Ryder. Her smile vanished at the same instant. A great, staring trouble reached out toward him and seemed to call on him for help; then she was gone.
"The whole bill for you, sir?" asked Giulio. "I'll bring it at once."
He bowed himself out of the room and closed the door.
Ryder, as he lighted a cigarette, found himself waiting for something.
He remembered, after a moment. It had been in this manner that Millicent, Countess Lalo, had left him alone in the private dining room. She, also, had pretended that she needed to telephone, and he had waited in this same manner, vainly, to hear the click of the deposited coin and the whirring of the dial. Of course, the partitions might really be too thick to let such small sounds through; and yet a strange nervousness grew up in him by degrees.
He held himself on a stiff leash until the cigarette was half consumed. By that time, he felt certain, she should have finished the call; their footsteps should be returning.
He jumped up and went to the door It seemed to have stuck, as ill-hung doors are apt to do. He tried it again, with a good, vigorous thrust of his shoulder.
At once a hand tapped on the door; the voice of Giulio said: "Pardon, signore. Everyone is busy for a moment. But afterward you will be let into the game!"
LESLIE CARTON, as she passed into the hall, said to Ravenna: "After all, it would be better if I could talk from a booth. Is there a booth here, Mike?"
"Of course there is. Downstairs," said Ravenna, and he went down beside her. making the stairs creak with his weight.
"That fellow Ryder is making a dead set at you, Leslie. You ought to smile at him now and then, don't you think? Or is he too dangerous for you?"
"Is he dangerous?" asked the girl.
"David?... I love the boy, Leslie; but he's always running wide open. Pray God he doesn't smash up one day."
She came down into the lower hall and the uncertain light.
"Over there," said Ravenna. "Two booths together... Help yourself, Leslie!"
He held open the door of the first booth and closed it behind her. After that, he slipped quickly into the adjoining booth and pressed his face against the partition. He could hear her saying: "I want the police..."
Ravenna sighed. He was walking up and down outside the booths when she pulled open the double-hinged door and said: "There's something wrong, Mike. The line seems to be dead."
"Dead?" said Ravenna. "That's strange. There's another phone in the next room. We'll try that."
He pushed open a door. The damp, sour breath of a wine cellar came up to her. When he snapped on the lights, she saw a dark descent of steps.
"I can't go down there," said Leslie. The soft bulk of Ravenna pressed her suddenly forward; the door slammed behind them.
The smooth, deep unction of his voice was saying: "Steady, Leslie. Steady, my dear."
She looked down at the hands that held her, and up at his eyes. A smile puckered the fat eyelids, but the smile had no meaning.
"You don't want me to start screaming, Mike, do you?" she asked.
Mike Ravenna put a thick arm around her. He said: "Poor darling, lean on Uncle Mike. The worst part is the first...."
He was leading her down the steps. They were now in a large cellar room set with a forest of unfinished wooden uprights. Shelves strung among them showed the dusty necks of wine bottles, the tarnished gilding of champagne. At the end, the cement floor dipped down to a black sheen of water. Two sloping wooden ways showed how cargo was brought from the river into the cellar. A double door, reinforced by a heavy iron frame, closed the waterway.
The building must have been a warehouse before it was converted to other uses, and the cellar was simply a housed-in landing stage, convenient for removing heavy weights from barges. The effect it gave now was so unusual that it was like seeing a mask withdrawn from a human face.
"...but after the first shock, the nerves of the brave soul brace," said Ravenna.
She said: "Do I have to die?"
He blinked at her, still smiling.
"What is that, child?" he asked.
"Are you going to kill me, Mike?" she repeated.
"Ah, my dear; my beautiful, beautiful Leslie," said Ravenna, "nothing will be done in haste. There is time for talk. But in the end you must die.... So—so!... Here, child. Taste this and you'll be better at once."
He jerked a bottle from a shelf, knocked off the neck with an adroit blow, and offered it to her lips.
"No, Mike. Thank you," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"I don't want it."
"Sit down here. Now, my pet—when did you first suspect me?"
"When I first came to New York, Mike."
"As soon as that? Why did you telephone to the police, just now?"
"I only knew, suddenly, that David was in danger."
"It was for him, then, my dear?" asked Ravenna, tenderly. "Well, well, but why did you suspect me from the first?"
"Of all the people Dorrie knew in New York, I thought there was only one vicious enough to harm her—that was Gonelli. There was only one strong enough; that is you."
"And pretty Dorrie was your sister? You're a graver girl than Dorrie, you know; and for a man like me, who sees the soul rather than the face, the resemblance is very small. But when did you know that Dorrie was dead?"
"I haunted the morgue. After weeks, I recognized the body."
"Ah, but that's almost impossible, child. At the time when it was recovered, I made sure that it would hardly be recognizable."
"There was a birthmark.... Mike, how could you have harmed her? She was so sweet. There was so much kindness and goodness in her!"
"It was because of that same kindness and goodness, Leslie. It began to draw in Leggett. If he married her, it meant millions...."
"She never would have married him!"
"Perhaps not. But I couldn't take chances."
"And Porter Brant?" she asked.
"I'd rather talk of him, by far," said Ravenna. "Think of that rascal slipping into the study of Leggett, finding him dead, picking out of his pocket a certain air-mail envelope with information enough to put poor old Mike Ravenna in jail. So when Brant tried blackmail, of course I had to deal with him. Disgusting beast of a fellow, my dear.
"See how quiet and brave you are... but if you could have seen how fear shook him to pieces! I loathed the rat so much that I could hardly force myself to handle him; but by remembering how he had tried to blackmail me, I was able to enjoy the work. So Brant was gagged and tied into the kitchen chair with the end of a rubber tube held under his nose. The tube ran to the gas stove, of course."
"Brant was a fool to try to blackmail a Ravenna, wasn't he?" asked the girl.
"Ah, but the temptation, my dear," said Ravenna. "Think of that! To have in his pocket the proof that it was not that scoundrelly Gonelli who was sucking Leggett's blood, but poor old fat Mike Ravenna himself! It was too much for Brant. I had blackmailed Leggett, now Brant would blackmail me. The future began to look rosy to him. He saw himself, suddenly, producing super-super moving pictures with lots of Ravenna money behind them.... Gonelli is a little slow. He ought to be here with the boat, by this time."
"Why is he coming?"
"Does that stir you? Does that rouse you, child? But you've spent so much time with Elia that you must be quite used to him by this time."
"I knew from the first that he had something to do with Dorrie's disappearance. To be with him was like holding a spider in my hand. But I had to find out what he knew, if I could. Dorrie had seen you and she had seen Gonelli on her last night...."
"How in heaven's name did you know that?"
"Ah," said Ravenna, "the eyes of a woman! The eyes of a woman! What a wonderful gift to the world!... But we were talking about Brant, weren't we?"
"You were saying that you had blackmailed Mr. Leggett. Was he dishonest, too?"
"J.J.? Not exactly. But when he had to take over a contracting business for a bad debt, the first thing he ran into was a necessity for paying graft money. And he paid it. Once. That was quite enough for me, of course. I simply had a record taken of how and when and how much money had passed. Gonelli posed as the blackmailer. Poor, fat Mike remained Leggett's best friend and bled him through that leech, Gonelli, all the while."
He began to laugh again.
He pulled a paper parcel from his coat pocket, unwrapped it, and began to gnaw at a chunk of Italian sausage.
"But Gonelli, the brute, confused everything. Tim Daley was the fellow who carried the money for the bribe from Leggett to the alderman. From Daley we got the information that tied up Leggett. After Tim left prison for a little job he'd done, Gonelli turned him down when he asked for money; which naturally sent Tim to Leggett. That was why I was on a scaffold, like a man about to be hanged, the night of the dinner. I knew danger was coming. Does it all grow clear to you, my dear?"
"You've told me so much, Mike, that I know there's no hope for me. I have to die," said the girl.
"Ah, there's the pity of it!" boomed Ravenna. "It's not only the beauty of you, Leslie. It's more than that. It's the courage. When I think what a pair you and David would make—a glory to the race, Leslie. You do love him?"
"With all my heart," she said. "Will you tell me what Dorrie had done to you?"
"What had she done before Gonelli and I had to take her on the little boat ride—as we're about to take you, my dear? Why, it's fairly simple. Leggett had a soft streak about women, so I surrounded him with girls who were under my thumb, in one way or another. Girls with records that I knew. Cormorants who never could swallow that big fish, because I had a string around their throats. All beautiful. All charming. And Leggett was quite dazzled. He chose Marene for the time being and looked the others over to find a wife. What did I care? If one of them married him, I would have an invisible hand on the Leggett millions. You see? They were so much in my hand that when our brave young David recently went about searching for the golden angels, he really was walking from trap to trap. I sprang a few of those traps but a devilish good luck saved him. A very active boy, my dear. I once had to go in person and interrupt a scene between him and Marene. He almost had her ready to talk, but I came just in time."
"But Dorrie?" asked the girl.
"Your sweet little sister, Dorrie.... How much you love her, Leslie! And how love becomes a good woman! It is more than sun to a garden."
He picked up the flashlight and steadied it on the face of the girl.
"But when Dorrie appeared, Leggett at once went mad about her. I saw that there would be a marriage, and I had no control over Dorrie."
"There never would have been a marriage," said Leslie. "She was only having a gay time in New York. She wanted to go on the stage. That's why she took my mother's maiden name of Innis. But she was only being amused. She never would have married him!"
"Perhaps not," said Ravenna. "But it seemed dangerous to me. By that time, mind you, I knew that I was written down in Leggett's will for forty per cent, and I had to be serious. Sixteen million dollars—a fortune—a religion! So Gonelli and I took her out onto the river with a strip of plaster across her mouth, just as we'll have a strip of plaster across yours, Leslie.... How long was it before you missed her letters and came down to New York, dear?"
"Only ten days or so. She had been home and left a ring there with 'J.J.' inside it. And she had given me a pair of shoe-buckles set with brilliants. I thought they were too expensive—both the ring and the buckles. And I was worried. Besides, she talked so confidently of friends who would help her to get on the stage. She mentioned all of you. Then she went back to New York, and the silence began."
"So you came," said Ravenna. "And followed her footsteps, eh? True sisterly devotion, culminating in that little act at Francesco's, tonight.... Did you know? Did you guess before you left the stage?"
"When the rest of them jumped up, you remained still. When I saw your mouth sag open," said Leslie Carton, "I could guess, then, that you had killed poor Dorrie; that was why you knew it was only a ghost.... You, and Gonelli! You knew it could not be Dorrie."
"This will be a sad evening for Gonelli," said Ravenna. "He adored Dorrie. He really did. Before he struck her, he held up the club in both hands and seemed to pray to God.... I'm sorry, Leslie, darling. I should have avoided that ugly detail!... But he never cared about Dorrie as he cares about you. Jealously, Leslie. Damned jealous of David Ryder.... How I admire the patience with which you let him fall in love with you."
"I thought he might talk about you, Mike," the girl said, almost gently.
"But the horrible danger!" exclaimed Ravenna. "Thinking what you thought, to go out with Gonelli, and to a dark hell-hole like this!"
"Don't admire me too much," said the girl, with an irony which matched his. "I hoped I could make Elia turn against you. I was almost succeeding when you suddenly appeared tonight."
"Ah, my dear, my dear!" protested Ravenna. "You see what happens to wicked people who turn against old, fat Mike Ravenna? There was Brant; now there's Leslie. But I am tired of danger, my dear. I've had too much of it recently. It was a shrewd moment, with a real bite to it, for instance, when Eileen and I were going through the drawers of the desk for the new will with Leggett dead beside us, and the hand of Brant tapping on the door. But that Eileen had the speed of a witch. She found the envelope by sheer instinct."
"You had the will but you left the air-mail envelope behind?" she asked, with a quite impersonal excitement.
"Time was pressing us, darling."
"But if you had the will, how did it come into the hands of David tonight?"
"Ah, that was my darling Eileen. I've trained the child until she quite outdoes me. Such finesse! After we left the study, I thought I saw her burn the new will in the fire in the library. Of course it was only the envelope that she burned, the clever lass, and the will which gave thirty or forty millions to David she kept for herself. She would try to win our David; and if she won, she would produce the will. You see? Extraordinary child! She will hear from me tomorrow and learn how much I admire her. But with Leggett that night she was very wonderful, when she and I went into the study with him after dinner. Thanking him so prettily as he wrote out his check for five hundred ... to help her education along, d'you see? Thanking him so adroitly that she entirely covered me as I brought the gun to his head. As a matter of fact, she did not quite know that I intended to shoot our philanthropist. Whatever she does in the future, I have to admire her for that night.... And again, when David was asking for the golden angels... she knew she had lost hers in the study ... it was my sweet little Eileen, again, who went all by herself to your house and into your room and stole your dinner favor. Think of that!"
"Why mine, Mike?"
"She was a little afraid of your beauty, my dear, and wanted to point suspicion with her pretty finger in your direction. She had seen that her David was dazzled by you.... But you won him after all, and so you'll have David with you at the end! I'll bring him down to you as soon as Gonelli comes."
"Mike, will you listen to me?" asked the girl.
"There's a sweet huskiness in your voice that I could listen to forever," said Ravenna.
"I tell you this from my soul and my heart, Mike. David loves you. You can cover up my disappearance some way. It will never enter his mind to doubt anything you say. He trusts you perfectly because he has a great heart, Mike. If you murder him you're throwing a treasure away."
"Ah, my God, how moved I am!" cried Ravenna. "When I think of the children you could have had, you and David!... Well, you'll be together, presently, you and David."
He sighed profoundly and finished the sausage with one good bite, then flicked the empty skin of it away from him.
"And now, Leslie, for a bit of tape across the mouth... silence is the finest way of meeting the last great moment, you know," said Ravenna. "Or shall we wait for Gonelli? I think I hear him now at the river gate."
The heavy river gate shuddered as a force worked on it from the outside, then slid slowly ajar and showed the entering prow of a small boat, the black silhouette of the man in it, the long face of Gonelli, issuing pale into the light. Beyond, Leslie Carton saw the outline of a tug, sliding swiftly with the tide. She threw back her head and screamed with all her power, Ravenna's great, thick hand instantly muffled her outcry. Near at hand, she heard the river gate closing again. There was a silence. Then Ravenna was saying: "Ah, Gonelli; here you are in time. I had to take the girl first. Your friend Ryder is waiting for us upstairs."
He had removed his hand from her mouth and now she saw Gonelli bend above her with a gradual smile. The upper lip was stiff. His arms jumped around her suddenly. Sour wine was on his breath. With his head he pushed hers back and kissed her throat.
"Stop that, Gonelli! Stop it, beast!" shouted Ravenna.
Gonelli lifted his head, slowly.
"Well?" he asked.
"We have to put her aside for a moment while we bring down her man, Ryder. Have you forgotten that?"
"That David... yes, yes!" said Gonelli. "I am his Michelangelo. And I make him all new like stone, eh?"
THAT locked door and the voice of Giulio outside it had let the truth fall in on Ryder like crumbling walls, and buried him alive in his fear. Gonelli was the key word in the arch. Ravenna must have been brushed aside by him. Poor, fat Mike, stifled and helpless in his own excess weight. It was only strange that both the girl and Mike had been taken in silence.
He thought as far as Ravenna and stopped his mind there. He would not let his speculation pass on to the girl. He began to sweat, copiously, remembering that he had no gun. He had gone like a half-wit to hunt lions with his bare hands.
He sat down. The dreadful need of haste gathered in his heart and exploded into electric jitterings of brain and hand. Then his blank eye went over the table. The black wine almost filled the glass of Leslie Carton; his own glass was empty with faded purple draining down the in-side. Mike Ravenna had torn out the inside of a half-loaf and thumbed the soft bread to dough.
He looked to the window. The doubled pane of the upper half glittered like water; through the open lower part a faint wind breathed the heat of the city on him and kept the greenery of the window-box trembling. He went past the bird cage where the canary slept, a ball of yellow, and dropped his hands on the window sill. He looked up and down the empty streets for a moment. A single light in the opposite house front would have been a blessing, but all was dark, with watery lights from the street lamps playing on the window glass.
If he yelled for help he might rouse the neighborhood, at last, but the first shout would open the door behind him and set the gun of Giulio roaring.
He looked down the sheer, blank wall of the house to the pavement. It was too long a drop. An image of himself remained down there on the sidewalk with smashed legs, dragging itself on its hands like the great silversmith and liar, Cellini, escaping from Saint Angelo.
He looked up. The third story being shallow, the windows above were fairly close. One to the right took his eye, with the brackets to support a window box beneath it but no box as yet in place. It might be ten feet from his window sill to those brackets.
He turned back into the room.
Outside the door of the room, Giulio was singing a Neapolitan song with infinite emotion. He broke off to say: "Signor Ryder!"
Ryder was shifting the dishes, the glasses, from the table cloth. He took off his coat and spread it on the chair so that he could put down the crockery soundlessly.
"Signor Ryder!" repeated Giulio, tapping.
"Ah, be still, will you?" growled Ryder.
"A little conversation is a good thing. It keeps the eyes open, signore."
"A man of Ravenna's age ought to be tired of playing these practical jokes," said Ryder.
"Jokes? Yes, yes!" said Giulio. "But Signor Ravenna is a boy. No? He has a fat boy's face, always ready to laugh!"
"When you reach the point of the joke, tell me," said Ryder. "I'm going to sleep."
"No, no, signore! Stay awake and talk to poor Giulio!"
The fellow began to laugh very heartily. He was leaning a hand against the door, which shook with his mirth.
"Let me alone, Giulio," commanded Ryder. "I'm dead for sleep and I'm going to have it. When Ravenna is tired of this damned nonsense, you can wake me up, and then I'll see if I can manage a laugh."
"Laugh? Yes! yes!" said Giulio, more amused than ever.
"Good night," called Ryder, knotting the opposite comers of the tablecloth together.
"Good night, signore. But when will Signor Ravenna grow up?"
"Signor Ravenna be damned," said Ryder, and fetched a deep, groaning sigh, as a tired man will do when he relaxes for sleep.
He pulled off his shoes and, moving noiselessly to the window, stepped up on the sill. The long loop of the tablecloth he flung up toward the brackets beneath the upper window, but the cloth fanned out in the air and doubled uselessly back. He tried again and again. At last he gave up, and unknotting the ends of his rope, he sat down on the sill and twisted the length of the cloth into more compactness before he tied the corners together again. After that, when he stood up, he succeeded at the first cast. The loop of the cloth caught securely over the nearest bracket.
"Signor Ryder!" said the distinct voice of the waiter outside the door.
Ryder stood still.
"Signor Ryder... ah, well, sleep and be damned!" growled Giulio.
Ryder tried his weight, then jerked with full force. He drew from the bracket only a faint grinding sound; it seemed firm enough to hold him. So he reached as high as he could and allowed his body to swing gently from the sill. The rub of his fist against the wall halted the pendulous motion when he was in a straight line beneath the bracket. After that, he handed himself up carefully. One arm-haul from the window sill, a loosened bit of plaster dropped into his face. The bracket iron was loosening audibly in its socket. He made the last pull with infinite care, reaching the bracket, then shifting at once to the iron beyond it. By foot and hand he climbed to the sill, holding desperately, for the window was closed.
If it were locked, he would have to try to make the return, handing himself down the cloth and then swinging back to the window he had just left—unless the loosened comer bracket gave way.
He tried the window where the two sashes joined. It was fast. Hoping the sash was merely lodged, not locked, he pressed on one side and then on the other. At the next effort the window gave upward an inch. A warmth of blood flooded his face and all his body with relief. Yet it needed careful work to get the sash up without noise, for it stuck continually at the left side.
As soon as there was a sufficient clearance, he wriggled his body in over the sill. He was sprawled, belly down, half-way in, when a man's voice groaned in the darkness and bedsprings creaked. He dropped to the floor. It seemed to him that a figure rose and took shape in the darkness. But that was imagination, for snoring commenced a moment later. The odor of sweat and bad breath was stifling in the hot, close room.
By degrees, his hands found the way across the room, past the edge of a small round table, and then down the wall to the knob of a door.
He opened it carefully. The gray light of a night lamp showed him the hall as he closed the door behind him.
At his right, the back stairs circled into a well of darkness. He went down them softly to the dull glimmer of the hall-way beneath. When he peered beneath he saw Giulio seated on a canvas stool, with a big, black, polished automatic pointing over his knee at the door of the private dining room. He was enduring the passage of time with a sort of grim patience, his chin dropped in the heel of his left hand, his elbow on his knee. By silent inches Ryder left the bottom step and drifted into the full light. It seemed to him that even the pressure of his eye would be enough to make the Italian turn his head.
He reached the head of the next flight and had put a foot on the first step when Giulio lifted his head suddenly, stretched up an arm, and yawned prodigiously. Before that yawn ended, Ryder had glided down four or five steps into the lower shadow. There he waited for the sound of a footfall.
None came. He continued down the curve of the stairs into thick darkness, till he reached a level footing. His hands, outstretched to either side, touched first one wall and then another. He was walking down a corridor. Odors of cookery sweated obscurely out of the plaster. Then he heard a door opening, closing, and after this the most welcome sound in the world: the deep, murmuring boom of Ravenna's voice.
"Mike!" he called out, softly. "Mike, are you there?"
Two beats of silence followed; then three ceiling lights strung the hall with brilliance. Ravenna was there with an automatic steadied against the solid swell of his belly. Gonelli, beside him, carried a sub-machine gun casually under his arm. He was half turned, ready to spray the length of the hall with bullets.
"Ah, David, welcome, my boy! Welcome! Welcome!" said Ravenna. "Welcome to our party!"
A door broke the wall just at the left. Ryder looked toward it but did not try to reach it, for on the barrel of Gonelli's gun quivered a single ray of light, like that of an earnest eye.
"Why not now?" asked Gonelli, speaking softly, as though he feared the effect of even the vibration of his voice. "Why not now, and finish? So?"
"Don't be headlong," said the fat man. "This is a matter of many millions. It is not a question of winning, now. We have won. It is only a question of making the victory most complete."
"Then tape his hands. Tape his damned hands!" said Gonelli. "You watch this gun, Mr. Ryder. It could talk a lot of words all at once and you would have to hear them all."
Ravenna circled cautiously behind Ryder.
"Just drop your arms naturally at your side, David," said Ravenna, with the soothing, practiced voice of a tailor. "There is more behind this than you think. Just leave your arms loose. I'm forced to confine them behind your back "
"By God," breathed Ryder, "you are the man!"
IN the days when prohibition fattened the purse and endangered the business at Tony's, Ravenna had built in this most outlying of his enterprises a strong-room that was admirably conceived. It completely filled a small first-floor dining room. A shell of tool-proof steel furnished the core of the room, and outside and inside that steel skin, two feet of reinforced concrete strengthened the place. Within remained a chamber about ten feet long and wide and high in which a cache of the best liquor was maintained, only to be released when certain specialties commanded the highest prices in the market. In a corner of the room, Ravenna used to keep a small safe which contained his most important papers.
The door to this room was a masterpiece. It fitted into the outer wall as neatly as ever the mysterious patience of Egyptian masons jointed granite blocks invisibly together, and it was locked by a combination operated from the outside, and regularly set by Ravenna himself. On the inside, a simple bolt release took over the functions of the combination and made certain that no one could be locked accidentally inside the room.
This was the place which Ravenna naturally remembered when he had Ryder in his power. He sent his huge voice rolling up the stairs, first of all. "Giulio! Giulio!" he roared. "What are you doing? Sleeping? Signor Ryder is here, you fool! Come down!"
Giulio came bounding; and while he still was on the stairs, he threw up his hands at the sight of the prisoner.
"Well, go home and try to get some sleep," said Ravenna. "That's the trouble with you. You spend so much time sleeping that there's nothing left for you to live in."
"Signore, if even a mouse had stirred—if even a whisper—" pleaded Giulio.
"Go home," said Ravenna, kindly, "and wash your eyes clean with a little sleep."
Giulio disappeared, and Ravenna took Gonelli and Ryder into the strong room. A cheap deal table, its edges marked by the burns of cigarette stubs, was surrounded by half a dozen kitchen chairs.
"A simple place, eh?" said Ravenna. "But affairs have been settled here that have changed the city's policies—we've even touched Washington plans and congressional appropriations here. Please sit down."
"What good is talking? How can talking make something now?" asked Gonelli.
"Poor Gonelli!" said Ravenna. "What a rich man you would be if you could see beyond the tip of your nose! We are talking about forty million dollars, friend. I take from the pocket of David —pardon me, David—the last will and testament of Mr. Leggett. You see? When I destroy this, there remains only the other will in which fat Michael Ravenna gets forty per cent. Say sixteen millions. The remaining twenty-four millions go to what? To poor, starved, stupid cousins, people without the mind or the soul to digest such rich food. That is what I want to talk about—twenty- four million dollars, my dear Gonelli."
Gonelli shrugged his shoulders, and then pulled an eloquent finger across his throat.
"Wrong, Gonelli," said the fat man. "Here we have before us one of God's rare creatures: an honest man. Still more: an honest man in love.... David, we have Leslie. Will you bargain for her?"
"Yes," said Ryder. "She's unharmed, Ravenna?"
"Her sweet lips are closed only by tape, not by death," said Ravenna. "I offer her back to you. In return, I permit the law to execute this last will of Leggett, and you bind yourself to turn over to me the whole fortune except the ten per cent which the other will allows you."
Gonelli broke in: "Look! One man's tongue you can tie up. You buy him; but you cannot buy two tongues. The girl or the man. Either one speaks and Signor Ravenna sits in the chair and burns."
Ravenna was lifted from his chair by this speech.
At last he grunted: "Gonelli, go down and take care of Leslie Carton. We'll decide this one way or the other, in the next five minutes."
Gonelli paused at the door and pointed a solemn finger at Ryder.
"I know him," he said. "He is bad luck. So!"
Then he disappeared through the door and closed it behind him. It bumped shut with a dull impact; a shuddering breath of air passed through the room.
The paper fluttered on the table.
"Now, that is the question," said Ravenna, walking up and down the room. "Talk to me, David. As I live, I swear to God that I mean well by you. Only, I am one of the poor souls who have their price, and I see mine shining before me. Can I bargain with you? Can I trust you? Or must you lose your life while Mike loses twenty millions?"
"You can trust me!" said Ryder.
"Love! Love! Blind, beautiful love!" said the rich voice of Ravenna. He stopped in his walking and caught up the automatic which he had laid on the table. "Did you hear something, David?" he murmured.
"Nothing," said Ryder.
And yet he had heard something like' the dull stroke of a church bell miles and miles away.
"For a moment," said Ravenna, smiling, "I thought I heard the fall of a tumbler in the lock. You see how a guilty conscience sets the nerves on tip-toe? By God, it is a pity that I am such a bad man, I could say so many good things for the world to remember me by! But you, David, are good. You have the strength of the good. I see it in the white iron of your face as you endure, now, and keep the thought of Leslie Carton in your eyes."
Ryder said: "I'll deal with you, Mike. I want Leslie and I want her quickly. Gonelli is with her now."
And yet all the while he was straining his senses for that same muffled bell-stroke, that infinitely small sound in the wall. As though his thought reappeared telepathically in the mind of Ravenna, the Italian said: "I still wait for another noise like a tumbler falling in the lock. I know it cannot be, but I like the picture of young, strong David imprisoned while outside, at the combination, an agent of virtue is trying to read the combination of the safe by the divine sense of touch."
"You were talking Leslie, and money," said Ryder.
"The whole fortune pours into the lap of David. And then he keeps sacred his agreement with old fat Mike Ravenna. This is the point: Is there any man in the world whose honor is so sacred that forty million dollars cannot corrupt it? What was that?"
"I moved my chair," said Ryder.
"I am haunted by a cockroach in the wall," laughed Ravenna. "But I swear that I heard again—in my mind—the sound of a tumbler falling in the lock. Now let's consider this matter impersonally, objectively. If I trust you, I must trust Leslie Carton. There's the rub. Let me think. Oh, greed, how the thought of twenty million dollars rumbles in your paunch! Let it not deafen reason. And what does reason say? Oh, David, I fear the first look at reason's frowning face! It says: 'Murder, murder, murder!' A terrible face, David! And a terrible deep voice! It says: 'Remember Dorrie Innis! Remember Dorrie Innis!'
"My God, how like a play this is, and the villain soliloquizing in the last act! But play or no play, the damnable truth I see clearly before me. I could trust you, my dear lad. I could trust you without an afterthought; but I never could trust Leslie Carton. She has been a crusader; she has gone to the bottom pit of hell to find poor, lost Dorrie Innis.... And so... What do I have to say? That you must die. A new Orpheus for his lost Eurydice!"
He began to sing, softly, with upturned eyes, the famous air from Gluck's opera. And it was in the midst of this muffled music that Ryder heard again from the heart of the wall the imprisoned, clock-like note, but far more distinctly than before. He hoped that the Italian's song would drown out the sound but Ravenna broke off the melody with a grunt and whirled about.
The big round of the door sagged in at the same moment and through the opening crevice appeared the sallow face of Martin behind an automatic thrust out before it. The Italian grasped the edge of the table instead of the weapon on it and leaned there, panting.
The bowed head of Ravenna did not lift until Martin had jerked the straps of tape from the wrists of Ryder. Then Ravenna straightened. His face already was composed.
He said: "My guess was right, David. How plain it is that I should have been a poet instead of a politician!... Martin, do you remember long ago when I said that a fellow with a step as soft as yours could be dangerous?"
Ryder asked: "How, Martin?"
Martin said: "I followed you to the house of Ravenna, sir. I came down here behind you. I waited under the porch of a house across the street. Queer things happened. A man got out a window and climbed up a rope like a burglar. Then that Giulio came out and kept stopping and looking back at Tony's as he went away. So I decided to come in. I was inside when the two of them brought you through the hall to this place. When Gonelli went out again, I got to work."
Ryder laid a hand on his shoulder. The sticky feeling of his wrists where the tape had bound them still kept the nightmare alive in his flesh.
"Now, Mike," he said, looking no higher than the fat throat of the Italian, "where's Gonelli with Leslie Carton?"
"I must take you to them," said Ravenna, "if you make a little bargain with me, David."
"That when I show them to you, you let poor old Mike carry his sins away in peace."
"If I smash in your face with the heel of this gun, you'll still have a throat to talk with," said Ryder. "Will you take us to Gonelli or do I have to work on you first?"
"When I first saw you, David," answered Ravenna, "with that high head and that light, eager step, I knew that a tiger was abroad in the land. So I can't say that I'm surprised, now.... Will you follow me?"
Martin was using the same tape which had held the wrists of Ryder to bind the hands of Ravenna behind his back. And now the fat man led the way through the door, through the office beyond it, and into the hall. There he paused in front of a door.
"Open that," he said, and when it was set wide for him the flashlight which Martin shone through the darkness illumined a little room piled with boxes that left a narrow passage to a door on the other side of it. Ravenna, stepping onto the threshold, loosed the full power of his enormous voice, shouting: "Gonelli, get out with the girl!"
Ryder jerked the fat bulk of the man around by one shoulder and lifted his gun to strike into the fat face. Instead, he ran on, calling over his shoulder: "Stay with him, Martin!"
He had Martin's flashlight in his hand as he ran through the farther door of the room.
A steep flight of wooden steps descended into the big cellar. The shaft of the light flickered across a forest of rough wooden posts, with big spider-webs glistening between the posts. Before him he heard a low rumbling sound such as weighted rollers make on an iron track and toward that noise he ran, past coal and wood bins and storage compartments into a long portion of the cellar walled with shelf-sections stacked full of bottles. To the right appeared a square of faintly gleaming water and dull starlight with a boat and boatman vaguely outlined inside that frame. The flashlight showed him the long face of Gonelli as he picked up the oars.
"Gonelli! Gonelli! Come back!" shouted Ryder.
He furrowed the water beside the boat with a bullet.
The Italian, dropping his oars, picked up a figure from the bottom of the boat and held it as a shield.
"You shoot for me and hit her!" he screeched. "She is to me! She is for mine... addio, signore!"
For the current of the East River, pulling with faint hands at the boat, now drew it gradually out of the water-gate of Tony's cellar.
Ryder ran for the water down the slope of the cement floor and flung himself forward in a flat dive. A flashlight in one hand and a revolver in the other made swimming impossible. He let them both go and saw the torch, still burning, send a dim cone of brilliance down through the water.
Gonelli dropped the burden of the girl and leaned forward with a gun. It jerked in his hand. Water dashed into the face of Ryder.
The gun spoke again but it missed utterly, for the little boat was wobbling crazily. Leslie Carton, at Gonelli's feet, flung her body from gunwale to gunwale to upset his aim.
"Dio—cane!" screamed Gonelli, and struck twice at the girl.
That was when the left hand of Ryder gripped the stern of the boat. Gonelli's gun-stroke smashed the fingers of that hand but they seemed to be glued in place by pain as Ryder hauled himself in.
The gun exploded again, the echo shouting across the water—another miss as the stern of the boat jerked down to the water's edge. Ryder, hooking his left leg over the gunwale, kicked his right foot into the body of Gonelli and hurled him forward in the skiff.
Then Ryder was in the boat. He saw the girl crumpled up in a welter of water, her face upturned, blood streaked on it; then Gonelli rising to his knees—with empty hands! Ryder dived at him.
His left hand was a useless mass of agony. He doubled the arm and struck the head of Gonelli with the elbow as he plunged. With his right hand he caught the shirt of the Italian at the throat and beat his head against a thwart. The head wobbled foolishly from side to side. The mouth of Gonelli hung open, the jaws champing together; his eyes were closed. And Ryder realized suddenly that he was murdering a senseless body. He left the Italian lying across two thwarts like a branch broken in two places, and when he turned he saw Leslie Carton sitting up in the bottom of the skiff.
His left hand was no good, but with the arm he could support her while he pulled away the tape that gagged and bound her. Blood ran down her face in a black trickle from a wound beneath her hair. But that did not matter. She had two good hands and that was what counted.
"Take the oars," commanded Ryder. "And pull like hell back through the river gate, yonder.... Martin's in there, alone, with Mike Ravenna. We've got to get back to him."
He picked the gun of Gonelli out of the bottom of the boat and crouched forward, near the senseless Italian. The girl was at the oars.
"If we row out into the river, we can stop that tug," she called to him. "But if we go back into that horror...."
"Do as I tell you!" shouted Ryder. "Martin—he's in there alone!"
She gave way on the oars, bracing one foot against the nearest thwart. He watched the oars dip, the bubbles streaming faintly out above and below the edges of the blade. He saw the feathering, the backward sweep outlined by the arc of water-drops. Then he busied himself with strips of the tape he had taken from the girl, securing the hands of Gonelli, who began to stir and groan.
The voice of Leslie gasped at him as she tugged the oars. "David, did a bullet hit you?... What's happened to that hand?"
He hardly heard her. He was reconstructing Tony's as he knew it, wondering how far the noise of the gunshots might have echoed up through the building and roused some of the sleepers.
They might be stalking Martin now; and there was always the endlessly devising brain of Ravenna at work.
The girl had given herself wholly to rowing, throwing back her head as she pulled with all her might. The black mouth of the water gate opened about them. He could not believe that he was taking her back into the danger; but he thought again of the yellow face of Martin as the Frenchman had come into the strong room like a savage terrier into a fox's earth, and he redoubled the thrust of his hand against the oar.
He looked up to the lowering face of Tony's. It seemed to him that lights moved behind two of the windows, but that might be only the reflection from the water. Then the boat slid into the blackness of the cellar and the noise of it grounded on the shelving cement floor.
Gonelli sat up, suddenly. Ryder kept his grip on the man's shoulder as he asked: "Is there a light, Leslie?"
"Gonelli's," she answered. A cone of radiance sprang out from her hand and began to scan the shadows of the cellar.
"Stand up and walk!" he commanded.
Gonelli said: "My neck is broken—my head is smashed in!... Signore, in the name of God I did not kill Dorrie Innis. It was Signor Ravenna; he used my hands; what could poor Gonelli do?"
They stood on the floor of the cellar now. The water was sluicing down from Ryder's clothes. The blood that ran from his torn hand seemed to be washing the pain away by degrees. The nausea of faintness left the pit of his stomach.
"I go first and you follow, Gonelli. Leslie, keep close behind him," he directed.
She picked up his shattered left hand in both of hers and looked up to him in a silent agony.
"What's that? It's nothing," said Ryder. "It's Martin who's given us our chance and we've got to get to him...."
They had climbed the steps nearly to the top when the door at the head of the stairs swung wide, noiselessly; out of the rectangle of darkness the voice of Martin said: "Who comes?"
"I come, Martin!" said Ryder. "Is it all right? Is he still with you?"
"Still safely with him, David," said the voice of Ravenna.
They all stood in the little storage room. The flashlight or its reflection gave them a sufficient illumination.
"Poor Gonelli!" said Ravenna. "How sorry I am for you, my boy! Was it very bad when that devil of a David jumped into the boat with you?"
"Ah—pig-face—" gasped Gonelli. "I am going to talk. Out of my mouth everything is going to come!"
"Of course you'll talk, Gonelli," said Ravenna. "But I, too, shall talk!"
WHEN they reached the police station, Ryder went into a booth and rang Eileen Durante.
"Oh—David?" yawned her sleepy voice.
"Have you enough money to make a quick move?" he asked.
"Plenty," she answered. "How quick?"
"On the jump. They'll probably run you down, but I'm giving you a sporting chance."
"Who wants me?" she asked.
"For what?" cried Eileen.
"Murder, my dear," said Ryder, and rang off.
THE police surgeon, working with a strange tenderness on the hand of Ryder, said to him: "Three snapped metacarpals—and that joint of the middle finger cracked—all of that will be straightened out. As for the cuts, I haven't had to take a dozen stitches. So you see? You've put a hand into the fire and it's refused to burn; a lucky fellow, Mr. Ryder."
Voices had been murmuring in the next room. Now a man began to scream out: "He made me kill her! My God—I—Gonelli—I am a good boy—I love her—signori—look—I beg Signor Ravenna: 'Do not kill her yet, signore! Let her live for Gonelli!'—but what can I do when he argues? He is an educated man; he knows!—I cannot say no when he tells me—but that river she is so black and poor Dorrie she is so young—"
"Leslie, go home!" commanded Ryder. "Doctor, will you have an officer take her home?"
The girl came across the room to the couch on which Ryder was lying. She kneeled on the side of it opposite the doctor.
"I'm staying with you, David," she said.
"Stop that beast from screaming, will you, then?" asked Ryder of the doctor.
The surgeon laid the bandaged hand on the breast of Ryder and nodded at him.
"I'll try to stop him," he said. He looked for an instant at Leslie Carton and then left the room.
She picked up the uninjured hand of Ryder and pressed it over her face, blinding herself.
"I thought I wanted it, David," she whispered, "but I don't. 1 don't want them harmed. It's murder on top of murder—"
The yelling in the next room had ended.
"The law has them. There's mercy enough in the law," said Ryder.
He tried to sit up. The girl pressed him back.
"You're white and sick, David," she said. "Lie still. You have to rest."
"Five minutes," said Ryder. "Five minutes while I think myself forward to this minute. I haven't caught up with the facts, yet. I'm back there, somewhere, on the way to Tony's, still doubting you. What a sinner and a fool I was, Leslie, not to see the truth about you at once, and hold to it."
"Close your eyes," said the girl.
He closed his eyes.
"When we leave here, what a long, long, long way we're going!" she said. "So far that we'll forget, won't we?"
"Everything!" said Ryder.
The police commissioner came in with Ravenna behind him, manacled to the arm of an officer. The commissioner was a tall, elderly fellow, his military shoulders just beginning to sag from their perfect squareness. He had risen from the force and the red of all weathers was in his face. Time had whitened the stiff brush of his eyebrows.
"Ah," said the deep, soft voice of Ravenna, "see the two of them, commissioner!... Can you think of that beast of a Gonelli striking such a lovely face? Can you so much as think of it? But at last she's to be happy. At last..."
"Ravenna, be silent," said the commissioner. He said to Ryder: "You're too done in for much talking, now. So is Miss Carton. And most of the story is straightened out, now. Gonelli has told everything about two murders. The killing of Daley was his second job. There's no doubt about the way Ravenna murdered Brant. But were in doubt about Eileen Durante. What do you know about her, Mr. Ryder? Can you tell us where the trail of that little girl might lead us? She's disappeared from the city, it seems."
Ryder looked first into the face of Leslie Carton. Almost imperceptibly she shook her head.
"1 hardly knew her," Ryder declared. "I seem to be a blank, so far as Eileen is concerned."
"Was she as pretty as all that; or just as clever as that?" said the com-missioner.
"Perhaps she was both," said Ryder. "Whatever she is, I hope she has a second chance."
"Ravenna," said the commissioner, "will you tell me the truth? Did Eileen Durante have a share in the killing of John Leggett?"
Ravenna stared at Leslie Carton and her eyes gave him permission.
"Eileen had nothing whatever to do with it," he said. "Concerning my part in all this I'll write in detail. And perhaps in the end you'll feel that there's enough of me to die for all three crimes without involving anyone else except Gonelli."
"What is it, Ravenna?" asked the commissioner. "Repentance?"
"It's the first act of a new Ravenna," said the fat man. "The man that God had in mind from the first."
RYDER took Leslie Carton from the police station into the green- gray of the early morning.
"You're going home with me," he said.
"I can't go there alone, you know," said she.
"You're going home with me."
She looked quickly at him.
"Of course I am," said Leslie.
Martin drove them uptown to the penthouse.
"I really ought to go home," said Leslie, when the car stopped at last.
"You can telephone. You have got quite a lot of telephoning to do," he told her.
The elevator took them swiftly to the top of the world where the morning was pouring into the penthouse.
Martin roused the place. A pan chimed like a gong in the kitchen; the voice of Gains murmured from the dining room.
"Come here to the window," said Ryder.
She stood beside him. Far beneath them, little pedestrians moved through the gloom. New York, wakening, groaned like the questing beast.
"All that darkness, all that unhappiness, we're leaving behind us," said Ryder.
She did not answer.
"We know how to shut up unhappiness in one room. We don't have to let it wander all over the house, do we?" he asked.
"No." she said.
"You'll telephone to your landlady to send all your things over."
"I must go to pack them."
"If you go back there, the past may get hold of you," said Ryder, "and steal you away from me. Whenever I have a nightmare, it will be to find myself walking up and down outside that little white house and you inside of it. Telephone, Leslie."
"Yes," she said.
"Then a long-distance to your home and tell them that you're being married today."
"Yes," she agreed.
Someone entered the room. Ryder lifted his head.
"Martin," he said, "what is the best breakfast in the world?"
"Sliced peaches, monsieur," answered the voice of Martin, "dipped in white wine."
"What is the best white wine to dip them in?" asked Ryder.
"Some of the still Moselle that is getting ice-cold in your pantry, sir," said Martin.
"Arrange it," said Ryder.
"Yes, sir," said the departing voice of the valet.
"How did you know that it was Martin? I hardly heard him come in," said the girl.
"I knew by a special sort of happiness that came over me," said Ryder.
"What a kindness there is in you, David," said the girl.
"You talk like a silly girl who has fallen in love," said Ryder.
THEY sat opposite one another at the breakfast table. They were not breathing air but only the breath of the peaches and the bouquet of the wine.
"Martin." said Ryder, "what is the most beautiful place in the world?"
"I don't think that's true," said Ryder.
"You forget the valley air," said Leslie, "the softness of it."
"Yes, madame," said Martin, "and even in the broad daylight a sort of happy sleep that one finds in Pau...."
"He called me 'madame,'" said Leslie.
"Martin does not need to be told," said Ryder. "You were in Pau, Leslie?"
"Yes. On my way back from Spain."
"We're going to have a wander-year and not think a single thought except happiness," said Ryder.
"And Martin will come with us," said the girl.
"Martin will come with us," said Ryder. "We have to drink together, all of us.... I have a dark toast to propose.... Martin, fill a glass for yourself."
"I drink to a man I loved, to all that was in him worthy of loving," said Ryder. "I drink to a great man who is about to die. To Michael Ravenna!"
Only the girl hesitated a little; but it was plain that she had made a quick substitution of names, in her silent mind, before her smiling lips touched the wine.