Pulp Heroes - The Spider # 1 - THE SPIDER STRIKES, Chapter 9
First The Spider-Novel
Published in The Spider # 1, October 1933)
Chapter 9 - Into the Night
The inspector in charge of the case was worried. They had made scant progress toward running down the would-be murderer, and the Police Department would be treated very roughly by the morning newspapers, if no arrests could be reported. To add to his discomfit he was puzzled by a report that a shooting had occurred in Central Park. And he was mystified by a rumor that the shooting had been in connection with an attack upon Richard Wentworth.
At ten o'clock, not having heard again from Wentworth, he sent detectives to the rooming house of Dorothy Canfield, with orders to trace that young woman and to bring her in for questioning. Almost continuously he sat with a telephone at his ear, receiving reports and giving sharp orders and brief suggestions.
At half past ten the butler admitted a young woman, really only a girl, very small and exceedingly pretty.
"I want to see Mr. Richard Wentworth," she said.
"Mr. Wentworth is not at home, Miss," answered the butler.
The girl gave a little cry of alarm as a policeman came into the entrance hall. She turned and tried to escape through the door, but was easily stopped by the officer.
A plainclothesman entered swiftly and took the girl by the arm, leading her to one side, shooting sharp questions. The girl jerked away from him, opened her handbag and took out a small bottle which she raised to her lips, trying to extract the cork with her teeth. The detective grabbed the bottle out of her hand, glanced at it and called the inspector.
"Here is a young girl trying to commit suicide," he said, handing the bottle to the inspector.
"Are you Dorothy Canfield?" the inspector asked after a glance at the bottle and a quick scrutiny of the new arrival.
The girl nodded nervously, and the inspector led her into the music room, while the amazed butler shrugged his shoulders in dismay and returned to the butler's pantry for a cigarette and a glass of sherry.
He selected a biscuit and placed his hand upon the decanter of sherry, just as the bell sounded again, the annunciator this time indicating the service door. Very cautiously he opened the door as two men evidently of the servant type came out of the service elevator carrying large hampers.
The men stated that they were temporary waiters, bringing hampers, containing a cold supper which Mr. Wentworth desired to have served at midnight. One of the waiters, rather old and stooped, with graying hair, started to carry his hamper inside when he was stopped by a detective who came swiftly through the kitchen.
"What's the big idea?" the waiter exclaimed, placing his hamper upon the floor and noticing a uniformed man behind the detective. "Is this place pinched? What kind of a place is it?"
"The place is all right," remarked the detective. "Let's see what you have in those baskets?"
"I don't like the police," grumbled the old waiter and darted back into the elevator. The detective strode into the elevator and roughly pulled the old man out. Without wasting any further words, he dragged him through the kitchen and into the music room, where the inspector and several detectives were subjecting Dorothy Canfield to a continuous fire of questions.
"Here's a guy, inspector," the detective announced, "who doesn't like cops and who tried to run away. Says he's a waiter from a caterer sent by Mr. Wentworth. I think he's lying."
The old waiter fidgeted nervously beside his captor. His bowed head and stooped body seemed none too well supported by weak legs. He stared with apparent fear at the pathetic spectacle of the diminutive Dorothy Canfield, forced to face a powerful light while she met the shrewd gaze of her police inquisitors and listened to the reiteration of their searching questions.
"I shall be with you in a minute," the inspector said to the detective and turned back to the girl. "Now, Miss Canfield, we'll keep you here till you tell us the truth. You might as well come through with it."
"I ain't stoppin' here any longer," whined the old waiter.
"Shut up!" growled the detective.
The growl seemed to unnerve the decrepit waiter so that he swayed against the detective and nearly slipped to the floor.
"Stand up!" the detective growled more loudly, jerking his captive roughly into a standing position.
With surprising agility the waiter slipped from the detective's grasp and hobbled rapidly across the room to the group surrounding the wretched girl. The inspector rose angrily to meet him.
"Take this," whined the waiter, thrusting a pistol abruptly into the inspector's hand.
"Why, it's a police pistol!" exclaimed the inspector, examining the weapon. "Where the devil did you get it, my man?"
"Holy smoke!" ejaculated the detective. "The son of a gun took my pistol away from me!"
In the strong light which was playing upon the girl the figure of the waiter grew taller as he slowly straightened up, even in his ill-fitting waiter's clothes his well-knit, lithe form became apparent. The expression of his face changed, became strong and alert.
"Mr. Wentworth!" exclaimed the inspector, gazing at the transformed man in the strong light.
"Exactly," Wentworth returned, taking the pistol out of the inspector's hand and returning it to the astounded detective. "Thought I would do a little impersonating myself."
"But why?" demanded the inspector. "Why did you wish to impersonate a waiter?"
"Two reasons," answered Wentworth. "I wished to bring in a new cook, and some food, and know that neither had been tampered with, also I wish to mystify my enemy by returning to my apartment without his knowledge."
Deliberately Wentworth switched off the powerful light which had been shining in Dorothy Canfield's eyes.
He smiled at the inspector. "I had an appointment with this young lady," he said, "but, for some reason, she did not wait for me." Ram Singh came to the door of the music room and departed upon receiving a few words in his native language from his master. "I was attacked by the man we are hunting and succeeded in wounding him, how badly I do not know. He got away. That is all I have to report at present, inspector."
"This Canfield woman can tell us something," the inspector insisted. "We'll break her down very soon now."
"I think not," remarked Wentworth dryly. "In the first place, Miss Dorothy Canfield is my guest and, in the second place, my dear inspector, you don't know very much about women."
"She tried to take poison," the inspector persisted, "and we just stopped her in time. She must know something."
"Of course she knows something. I congratulate you upon saving her life. But, still, my dear inspector, I maintain that you don't know much about women."
Ram Singh came into the room with a dressing gown of green silk which he threw over his master's shoulders completely hiding the somewhat dilapidated waiter's clothes. The subtle makeup around his eyes and his grayed hair robbed him of some of his natural attraction, but left him with an air of mystery. There was nothing left of the weak character which he had portrayed so cleverly upon entering the room.
The inspector was somewhat nettled, yet he could not help admiring the unusual man who stood before him. What do you intend to do?" he asked.
"Men who make up their minds in advance," was the slow, enigmatical reply, "are always almost at a disadvantage when the time for action comes. Perhaps you will be kind enough to leave me."
The inspector shrugged and walked out of the room followed by the detective. At a sign from his master, Ram Singh also withdrew and closed the door of the music room.
Alone with the nervous and almost terror stricken girl, the man in the soft, green dressing gown did not approach her or even speak to her. Instead, he walked away from her and seated himself upon the organ bench at the end of the room.
For a little while there was silence and nothing seemed to happen. The girl in the chair turned her head tensely to watch the green-clad man who sat upon the organ bench with his back to her. She was quite unaware of the small mirror which permitted him to view her as he sat there. So gradually that she scarcely noticed it, at first the indirect lighting of the room commenced to dim as his hand slowly turned a rheostat conveniently placed below the keyboard of the organ. She relaxed somewhat with the softening of the light and allowed her head to rest against the back of the chair.
When the light was quite soft, the music commenced. In the beginning it was so low and gentle that it was scarcely audible. There was sorrow in it and hope, and it held strength even when it could scarcely be heard. It was an improvisation by a man who allowed himself to imagine the feelings of a woman. Sometimes the music was religious and a little Eastern and sometimes there was a hint of the martial which was always dispelled by romance.
Her eyes closed and her fingers ceased to grip the arms of her chair.
The music lowered to a soft trembling and ended as he turned on the bench and faced her.
"I should like to help you."
She did not open her eyes. She was really very young, almost like a tired child who clings to sleep and does not want to commence the day again.
He continued softly: "You have a sweetheart" she opened her eyes and stared at him incredulously "who is wanted by the police."
"He didn't do it!" she exclaimed vehemently. "He didn't do it!"
"I know that he didn't do it!"
"I know that he didn't," very softly. "Then then why "
There were tears in her eyes, tears that came with the birth of hope.
"My dear," he continued as if talking to a tired child, but with nothing belittling in his voice, "I have been working on your case for months and it is now time that I found your sweetheart. I believe that he telephones you from various pay stations at night, but is afraid to come near you, fearing the police."
She nodded. "And then a strange man telephoned to me and tried to make me tell him Jack Selwyn's address. He said that it would be all right if I told him but that, if I didn't tell him, he would tell the police that I knew where Jack was living and that the police would soon get the address out of me. I got desperate and decided to end it all rather than let Jack go to prison. I was just going to do it when I thought of you."
"But what made you think of me, Dorothy?" he asked, so gently that she did not notice he had used her first name.
"Two or three times the newspapers told about some very clever things you did when you worked with the police and how you showed them up to be all wrong. They were hunting my Jack, and I wanted you to show them that they were wrong again."
"That seems rather strange as my name was not mentioned very prominently," he said, turning back to the organ and playing softly for a few moments.
"But " she commenced and stopped. "Yes?" he inquired without turning to look at her.
"But I knew you so well," she continued, "because I used to see pictures of you in the newspapers when you played polo and and, well I suppose I would have fallen in love with you if I hadn't met Jack."
"I hope Jack is a fine chap," he replied, turning toward her with a smile. "Going to trust me?"
She looked at him gravely with very large eyes. "I think," she said slowly, "that any woman would trust you."
Still smiling, he handed her a waiter's pad and pencil which he took from the shabby coat underneath his dressing gown. "Just write Jack's address for me in case these bothersome policemen have planted a dictaphone in my music room," he said quietly.
She scribbled upon the pad, and he gave it a single glance before tearing off the top page and touching a match to it. "Now nobody can know except you and me," he said when the flame had done its work. "By the way, was it Jack who tied up the strange woman in your room and locked her in the closet?"
"Yes," she replied. "I was talking with Jack on the telephone when she came into the room and I put the telephone down without hanging up the receiver. I screamed when she twisted my arm because I refused to give her Jack's address. Jack heard me scream over the telephone and came running over to my room."
"I don't suppose," he said, looking at her thoughtfully, "that you know why these people wish to obtain Jack's address?"
"No," she said, shaking her head emphatically, "and neither does Jack."
The door opened and Nita van Sloan entered.
"Dick!" exclaimed Nita. "What on earth are you doing in that costume and what have you done to your face?"
"Nita," said Wentworth, "let me introduce Miss Dorothy Canfield. Dorothy, this is my very good friend, Miss Van Sloan."
"You look a little faint, Dorothy," said Nita, extending her hand with friendliness and instantly noticing the girl's extreme youth. "I think a glass of champagne would be good for you."
Nita, who sensed much more than she had yet learned, took charge of Dorothy in a way that was charming and which placed the girl much at her ease.
As the three of them were passing through the hall on their way to the dining room, Wentworth heard the inspector conversing with one of the detectives.
"I am confident that the bullet was fired from the small penthouse of the apartment building on the next avenue," the inspector remarked.
"From Madame Pompé's penthouse?" queried Wentworth, overhearing the remark.
The effect of the query upon the inspector was electrical. "How the devil did you know that Madame Pompe lived in that penthouse?" he almost shouted. "I just received the information over the telephone. How in blazes did you know it?"
"I went through the apartment about an hour ago," coolly stated Wentworth.
"You went through it!" gasped the inspector. "The owner is out and a couple of our best men are trying to get keys that will fit the door."
"They won't find anything inside," replied Wentworth indifferently. "However, if they insist upon getting in, tell 'em to go out on the roof and try the pantry window. It isn't locked. I jimmied it."
While the inspector stared in stupefaction at Wentworth, that very cool individual turned to Nita.
"Can you lend Dorothy some night things?" he asked. "She is spending the night with us."
"Oh, but I can't stay all night!" interrupted Dorothy in alarm. "I am staying with a cousin tonight and she won't know what has happened to me."
"Telephone her or send her a telegram," said Wentworth determinedly. "Your life would not be worth very much if you left this apartment tonight."
Jenkins came up with an extension telephone and handed it to Wentworth. "Telephone for you, sir."
"My dear Madame Pompé!" exclaimed Wentworth with surprising warmth as soon as he heard her voice. "I've been worried every minute since you disappeared from that room. Fancy that beastly creature barging in on us! He must have been mad. I don't blame you for running away... You are all alone and want me to come over?... Will I come? I most certainly shall just as soon as I get rid of some bothersome people... Oh, in about an hour. Somebody is coming into the room and I can't talk any more. Till we meet!"
Wentworth grinned at the inspector as he handed the telephone back to the butler. "Now, my dear inspector," he said, "if you will call all your men away from Madame Pompé's apartment building for the remainder of the night, I shall go over there and see what I can do."
As Richard Wentworth finished speaking, his face sobered and his green dressing gown slipped to the floor, revealing him once more in the shabby clothes of a waiter who had seen better days. Slowly his shoulders began to droop and one of his legs bent a little as if with weakness. His lower lip sagged out and his jaw dropped a little, while his eyes closed somewhat and appeared to lose their alertness.
With head bowed he shambled aimlessly from the hall and out through the kitchen entrance, where he pressed the button of the service elevator on his way once more into the night of New York...