To a casual observer it might have appeared that Mr. Doarty was doing nothing more remarkable than leaning against a telephone pole, which in itself might have been easily explained had Mr. Doarty not been so palpably sober; but there are no casual observers in the South Side levee at two in the morning—those who are in any condition to observe at all have the eyes of ferrets.
This was not the first of Mr. Doarty’s nocturnal visits to the vicinage of Farris’s. For almost a week he had haunted the neighborhood between midnight and dawn, for Mr. Doarty had determined to “get” Mr. Farris.
From the open doors of a corner saloon came bursts of bacchanal revelry—snatches of ribald song; hoarse laughter; the hysterical scream of a woman; but though this place, too, was Farris’s and the closing hour long passed Mr. Doarty deigned not to notice so minor an infraction of the law.
Hadn’t Lieutenant Barnut filed some ninety odd complaints against the saloon-keeper-alderman of the Eighteenth Ward for violation of this same ordinance, only to have them all pigeonholed in the city prosecutor’s office? Hadn’t he appeared in person before the September Grand Jury, and hadn’t the state Attorney’s office succeeded in bamboozling that August body into the belief that they had nothing whatsoever to do with the matter?
An anyhow, what was an aldermanic drag compared with that possessed by “Abe” Farris? No; Mr. Doarty, had you questioned him, would have assured you that he had not been born so recently as yesterday; that he was entirely dry behind the ears; and that if he “got” Mr. Farris at all he would get him good and plenty, for had he not only a week before, learning that Mr. Doarty was no longer in the good graces of his commanding officer, refused to acknowledge Mr. Doarty’s right to certain little incidental emoluments upon which time-honored custom had placed the seal of lawful title?
In other words—Mr. Doarty’s words—Abe Farris had not come across. Not only had he failed in this very necessary obligation, but he had added insult to injury by requesting Mr. Doarty to hie himself to the celestial nadir; and he had made his remarks in a loud, coarse tone of voice in the presence of a pock-marked barkeep who had it in for Mr. Doarty because of a certain sixty, weary, beerless days that the pock-marked one had spent at the Bridewell on Mr. Doarty’s account.
But the most malign spleen becomes less virulent with age, and so it was that Mr. Doarty found his self-appointed task becoming irksome to a degree that threatened the stability of his Machiavellian resolve. Furthermore, he was becoming sleepy and thirsty.
“T’ ’ell with ’im,” sighed Mr. Doarty, sadly, as he removed his weight from the supporting pole to turn disconsolately toward the mouth of the alley.
At the third step he turned to cast a parting, venomous glance at the back of Farris’s; but he took no fourth step toward the alley’s mouth. Instead he dissolved, wraithlike, into the dense shadow between two barns, his eyes never leaving the back of the building that he had watched so assiduously and fruitlessly for the past several nights.
In the back of Farris’s is a rickety fire escape—a mute, decaying witness to the lack of pull under which some former landlord labored. Toward this was Mr. Doarty’s gaze directed, for dimly discernible upon it was something that moved—moved slowly and cautiously downward.
It required but a moment for Mr. Doarty’s trained eye to transmit to his eager brain all that he required to know, for the moment at least, of the slow-moving shadow upon the shadowy ladder—the he darted across the alley toward the yard in the rear of Farris’s.
A girl was descending the fire escape. How frightened she was she alone knew and that there must have been something very dreadful to escape in the building above her was apparent from the risk she took at each step upon that loose and rusted fabric of sagging iron.
She was clothed in a flowered kimono, over which she had drawn a black silk underskirt. Around her shoulders was an old red shawl, and she was shod only in bedroom slippers. Scarcely a suitable attire for street wear; but then people in the vicinity of Twenty-Fourth Street are not over particular about such matters; especially those who elect to leave their bed and board at two of a morning by way of a back fire escape.
At the first floor the ladder ended—a common and embarrassing habit of fire escape ladders, which are as likely as not to terminate twenty feet above a stone areaway, or a picket fence—but the stand pipe continued on to the ground. A stand pipe, flat against a brick wall, is not an easy thing for a young lady in a flowered kimono and little else to negotiate; but this was an unusual young lady, and great indeed must have been the stress of circumstance which urged her on, for she came down the stand pipe with the ease of a cat, and at the bottom, turned, horrified, to look into the face of Mr. Doarty.
With a little gasp of bewilderment she attempted to dodge past him, but a huge paw of a hand reached out and grasped her shoulder.
“Well dearie?” said Mr. Doarty.
“Cut it out,” replied the girl, “and le’me loose. Who are you anyhow?”
For answer Mr. Doarty pulled back the lapel of his coat disclosing a shiny piece of metal pinned on his suspender.
“I ain’t done nothing,” said the girl.
“Of course you ain’t,” agreed Mr. Doarty. “Don’t I know that real ladies always climb down fire escapes at two o’clock in the morning just to prove that they ain’t done nothin’?”
“Goin’ to pinch me?”
“Depends,” replied the plain-clothes man. “What’s the idea of this nocturnal get-away.”
The girl hesitated.
“Give it to me straight,” admonished her captor. “It’ll go easier with you.”
“I guess I might as well,” she said. “You see I get a swell offer from the Beverly Club, and that fat schonacker,” she gave a vindictive nod of her head toward the back of Farris’s resort, “he gets it tipped off to him some way, and has all my clothes locked up so as I can’t get away.”
“He wouldn’t let you out of his place, eh?” asked Mr. Doarty, half to himself.
“He said I owed him three hundred dollars for board and clothes.”
“An’ he was keepin’ you a prisoner there against your will?” purred Mr. Doarty.
“Yes,” said the girl.
Mr. Doarty grinned. This wasn’t exactly the magnitude of the method he had hoped to “get” Mr. Farris; but it was better than nothing. The present Grand Jury was even now tussling with the vice problem. Hours of its valuable time were being taken up by reformers who knew all about the general conditions with which every adult citizen is familiar; but the tangible cases, backed by the sort of evidence that convicts, were remarkable only on account of there scarcity.
Something seemed always to seal the mouths of the principal witnesses the moment they entered the Grand Jury room; but here was a case where personal spite and desire for revenge might combine to make an excellent witness against the most notorious dive keeper in the city. It was worth trying for.
“Come along,” said Mr. Doarty.
“Aw, don’t. Please don’t!” begged the girl. “I ain’t done nothing, honest!”
“Sure you ain’t,” replied Mr. Doarty. “I’m only goin’ to have you held as a witness against Farris. That’ll get you even with him, and give you a chance to get out and take that swell job at the Beverly Club.”
“They wouldn’t have me if I peached on Farris, and you know it. Why, I couldn’t get a job in a house in town if I done that.”
“How would you like to be booked for manslaughter?” asked the plain clothes man.
“What you giving me!” laughed the girl. “Stow the kid.”
“It ain’t no kid,” replied Mr. Doarty solemnly. “The police knows a lot about the guy that some one croaked up in Farris’s in March, but we been layin’ low for a certain person as is suspected of passin’ him the drops. It gets tipped off to the inmates of Farris’s, an’ I bein’ next, spots her as she is makin’ her get-away. Are you hep?”
The young lady was hep—most assuredly who would not be hep to the very palpable threat contained in Mr. Doarty’s pretty little fiction?
“An’,” continued Doarty, “when Farris finds you been tryin’ to duck he won’t do nothin’ to help you.”
The girl had known of many who had gone to the pen on slighter evidence than this. She knew that the police had been searching for some one upon whom to fasten the murder of a well known business man who had not been murdered at all, but who had had the lack of foresight to succumb to an attack of acute endocarditis in the hallway of the Farris place.
The searching eyes of the plain-clothes man had not failed to detect the little shudder of horror that had been the visible reaction in the girl to the sudden recollections induced by mention of that unpleasant affair, and while he had no reason whatever to suspect her or another of any criminal responsibility for the man’s death, yet he made a mental note of the effect his words had had upon her.
Had she not been an inmate of the house at the time the thing occurred? And was it not just possible that an excellent police case might be worked up about her later if the exigencies of the service demanded a brilliant police coup to distract the public’s attention from some more important case in which they had blundered?
For a moment the girl was silent. How badly he had frightened her with his threat Mr. Doarty had not the faintest conception, nor, could he have guessed the pitiable beating of her heart, would he have been able to conjecture the real cause of her alarm. That the policeman would assume criminal guilt in her should she allow her perturbation to become too apparent she well knew, and so, for the moment of her silence, she struggled to regain mastery of herself. Nor was she unsuccessful.
“It wouldn’t get you anything,” she said, “to follow that lay, for the report of the coroner’s physician shows that Mr.—— that the man died of heart disease. But, cutting out all this foolishness, I’ll swear a complaint against Farris if you want me to—if you thing that it will get you anything. Though, and you can take it from me who knows, it’s more likely to get you a prairie beat out Brighton way—there’s many a bull pullin’ his box to-night out in the wilderness who thought that he could put one over on Abe Farris—and Farris is still doin’ business at the old stand.”
As they talked they had been walking toward the street, and now Doarty crossed over to the corner with the girl and pulled for the wagon.
“What did it stand you to forget the guy’s name? he asked, after they had stood in silence for a time awaiting the wagon’s tardy arrival.
“They offered me a hundred,” she replied.
“An’, of course, you didn’t take it,” he ventured, grinning.
The girl made no response.
“The newspapers sure suffered an awful shock when they found the old bloke was one of the biggest stockholders in two State Street department stores,” continued Mr. Doarty reminiscently.
“They say his family routed the advertising manager of every paper in the city out of bed at one o’clock in the morning, and that three morning papers had to pull out the story after they had gone to press with it, and stick in a column obituary tellin’ all about what he had done for his city and his fellow man, with a cut of his mug in place of the front page cartoon—gee! But it must be great to have a drag like that.”
“Yes,” said the girl in a faint voice.
Faintly in the distance a gong clanged.
“Them guys is sure takin’ their time,” observed Mr. Doarty.
A little crowd had gathered about the couple at the police-box, only mildly curious, for an arrest is no uncommon thing in that section of town; and when they discovered that no one had been cut up, or shot up, and that the prisoner was scandalously sober they ceased even to be mildly curious. By the time the wagon arrived the two were again alone.
At the station the girl signed a complaint against one Abe Farris, and was then locked up to insure her appearance in court the following morning.
Officer Doarty, warrant in hand, fairly burned the pavement back to Farris’s. It had been many a month since he had made an arrest which gave him as sincere personal pleasure as this one. He routed Farris out of bed and hustled him into his clothes. This, he surmised, might be the sole satisfaction that he would derive, since the municipal court judge before whom the preliminary hearing would come later in the morning might, in all likelihood, discharge the defendant.
If the girl held out and proved a good witness there was a slight chance that Farris would be held to the Grand Jury, in which event he would derive a certain amount of unpleasant notoriety at a time when public opinion was aroused by the vice question, and the mayor in a most receptive mood for making political capital by revocation of a few saloon licenses.
All this would prove balm to Mr. Doarty’s injured sensibilities.
Farris grumbled and threatened, but off to the station he went without even an opportunity to telephone for a bondsman. That he procured one an hour later was no fault of Mr. Doarty, who employed his most persuasive English in an endeavor to convince the sergeant that Mr. Farris should be locked up forthwith, and given no access to a telephone until daylight. But the sergeant had no particular grudge against Mr. Farris, while, on the other hand, he was possessed of a large family to whom his monthly pay check was an item of considerable importance. So to Mr. Farris, he was affable courtesy personified.
Thus it was that the defendant went free, while the injured one remained behind prison bars.
Farris’s first act was to obtain permission to see the girl who had sworn to the complaint against him. As he approached her cell he assumed a jocular suavity that he was far from feeling.
“What you doin’ here, Maggie?” he asked, by way of an opening.
“Didn’t you know that you’d get the worst of it if you went to buckin’ me?” queried Farris.
“I didn’t want to do it,” replied the girl; “though that’s not sayin’ that some one hadn’t ought to do it to you good an’ proper—you got it comin’ to you, all right.”
“It won’t get you nothin’, Maggie.”
“Maybe it’ll get me my clothes—that’s all I want.”
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place, then, and not go stirrin’ up a lot of hell this way?” asked Farris in an injured tone. “Ain’t I always been on the square with you?”
“Sure! You been as straight as a corkscrew with me.”
“Didn’t I keep the bulls from guessin’ that you was the only girl in the place that had any real reason for wantin’ to croak old—the old guy?” continued Mr. Farris, ignoring the reverse English on the girl’s last statement.
A little shiver ran through the girl at mention of the tragedy that was still fresh in her memory—her own life tragedy in which the death of the old man in the hallway at Farris’s had been but a minor incident.
“What you goin’ to tell the judge?” asked Farris after a moment’s pause.
“The truth—that you kept me there against my will by locking my clothes up where I couldn’t get ’em,” she replied.
“I was only kiddin—you could ’a’ had ’em any old time. Anyways, there wasn’t no call for your doin’ this.”
“You got a funny way of kiddin’; but even at that, I didn’t have any idea of peachin’ on you—he made me,” said the girl.
The girl nodded. “Sure—who else? He’s got it in for you.”
Farris turned away much relieved, and an hour later a colored man delivered a package at the station for Maggie Lynch. It contained the girl’s clothes, and an envelope in which were five germ-laden but perfectly good, ten-dollar bills.
The matron smiled as she opened the envelope.
“Some fox,” she said.
“Some fox, is right,” replied the girl.