AS Gaza de Lure entered the house in which she roomed, her landlady came hastily from the living room.
“Is that you, Miss Burke?” she asked. “Here’s a telegram that came for you just a few minutes ago. I do hope it’s not bad news!”
“My mother is ill. They have sent for me,” said the girl. “I wonder if you would be good enough to call up the S. P. and ask the first train I can get that stops at Ganado, while I run upstairs and pack my bag?”
“You poor little dear!” exclaimed the landlady. “I’m so sorry! I’ll call right away, and then I’ll come up and help you.”
A few minutes later she came up to say that the first train left at nine o’clock in the morning. She offered to help her pack; but the girl said there was nothing that she could not do herself.
“I must go out first for a few minutes,” Gaza told her. “Then I will come back and finish packing the few things that it will be necessary to take.”
When the landlady had left, the girl stood staring dully at the black travelling bag that she had brought from the closet and placed on her bed; but she did not see the bag or the few pieces of lingerie that she had taken from her dresser drawers. She saw only the sweet face of her mother, and the dear smile that had always shone there to soothe each childish trouble—the smile that had lighted the girl’s dark days, even after she had left home.
For a long time she stood there thinking—trying to realize what it would mean to her if the worst should come. It could make no difference, she realized, except that it might perhaps save her mother from a still greater sorrow. It was the girl who was dead, though the mother did not guess it; she had been dead for many months. This hollow, shaking husk was not Shannon Burke—it was not the thing that the mother had loved. It was almost a sacrilege to take it up there into the clean country and flaunt it in the face of so sacred a thing as mother love.
The girl stepped quickly to a writing desk, and, drawing a key from her vanity case, unlocked it. She took from it a case containing a hypodermic syringe and a few small phials; then she crossed the hall to the bathroom. When she came back, she looked rested and less nervous. She returned the things to the desk, locked it, and ran downstairs.
“I will be back in a few minutes,” she called to the landlady “I shall have to arrange a few things tonight with a friend.”
She went directly to the Vista del Paso bungalow. Crumb was surprised and not a little startled as he heard her key in the door. He had a sudden vision of Allen returning, and he went white; but when he saw who it was he was no less surprised, for the girl had never before returned after leaving for the night.
“My gracious!” he exclaimed. “Look who’s here!”
She did not return his smile.
“I found a telegram at home,” she said, “that necessitates my going away for a few days. I came over to tell you and, to get a little snow to last me until I come back. Where I am going they don’t have it, I imagine.”
He looked at her through narrowed, suspicious lids.
“You’re going to quit me!” he cried accusingly. “That’s why you went out with Allen! You can’t get away with it, I’ll never let you go. Do you hear me? I’ll never let you go!”
“Don’t be a fool, Wilson,” she replied. “My mother is ill, and I have been sent for.”
“Your mother? You never told me you had a mother.”
“But I have, though I don’t care to talk about her to you. She needs me, and I am going.”
He was still suspicious.
“Are you telling the truth? Will you come back?”
“You know I’ll come back,” she said. “I shall have to,” she added with a weary sigh.
“Yes, you’ll have to. You can’t get along without it. You’ll come back all right—I’ll see to that!”
“How much snow you got at home?” he demanded.
“You know I keep scarcely any there. I forgot my case to-day—left it in my desk, so I had a little there—a couple of shots, maybe.”
“Very well,” he said. “I’ll give you enough to last a week—then you’ll have to come home.”
“You say you’ll give me enough to last a week?” the girl repeated questioningly. “I’ll take what I want—it’s as much mine as yours!”
“But you don’t get any more than I’m going to give you. I won’t have you gone more than a week. I can’t live without you—don’t you understand? I believe you have a wooden heart, or none at all!”
“Oh,” she said, yawning, “you can get some other poor fool to peddle it for you if I don’t come back; but I’m coming, never fear. You’re as bad as the snow—I hate you both, but I can’t live without either of you. I don’t feel like quarrelling, Wilson. Give me the stuff—enough to last a week, for I’ll be home before that.”
He went to the bathroom and made a little package up for her.
“Here!” he said, returning to the living room. “That ought to last you a week.”
She took it and slipped it into her case.
“Well, good-bye,” she said, turning toward the door.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me good-bye?” he asked.
“Have I ever kissed you, since I learned that you had a wife?” she asked.
“No,” he admitted. “but you might kiss me good-bye now, when you’re going away for a whole week.”
“Nothing, doing, Wilson!” she said with a negative shake of the head. “I’d as lief kiss a Gila monster!”
He made a wry face.
“You’re sure candid,” he said.
She shrugged her shoulders in a gesture of indifference and moved toward the door.
On her face was an expression of unspeakable disgust as she passed through the doorway of the bungalow and closed the door behind her. Wilson Crumb simulated a shudder.
“I sure was a damn fool,” he mused. “Gaza would have made the greatest emotional actress the screen has ever known, if I’d given her a chance. I guessed her wrong and played her wrong. She’s not like any woman I ever saw before. I should have made her a great success and won her gratitude—that’s the way I ought to have played her. Oh, well, what’s the difference? She’ll come back!”
He rose and went to the bathroom, snuffed half a grain of cocaine, and then collected all the narcotics hidden there and every vestige of contributary evidence of their use by the inmates of the bungalow. Dragging a small table into his bedroom closet, he mounted and opened a trap leading into the air space between the ceiling and the roof. Into this he climbed, carrying the drugs with him.
They were wrapped in a long thin package, to which a light, strong cord was attached. With this cord he lowered the package into the space between the sheathing and the inner wall, fastening the end of the cord to a nail driven into one of the studs at arm’s length below the wall plate.
“There!” he thought, as he clambered back into the closet. “It’ll take some dick to uncover that junk!”
Hidden between plaster and sheathing of the little bungalow was a fortune in narcotics. Only a small fraction of their stock had the two peddlers kept in the bathroom, and Crumb had now removed that, in case Allen should guess that he had been betrayed by his confederate and direct the police to the bungalow, or the police themselves should trace his call and make an investigation on their own account. He realized he had taken a great risk; but his strategem had saved him from the deadly menace of Allen’s vengeance, at least for the present. The fact that there must ultimately be an accounting with the man he put out of his mind. It would be time enough to meet that contingency when it arose.
As a matter of fact, the police came to the bungalow that very evening; but through no clue obtained from Allen, who, while he had suspicions that were tantamount to conviction, chose to await the time when he might wreak his revenge in his own way. The desk sergeant had traced the call to Crumb, and after the arrest had been made a couple of detective sergeants called upon him. They were quiet, pleasant—spoken men, with an ingratiating way that might have deceived the possessor of a less suspicious brain than Crumb’s.
“The lieutenant sent us over to thank you for that tip.” said the spokesman. “We got him all right, with the junk on him.”
Not for nothing was Wilson Crumb a talented actor. None there was who could better have registered polite and uninterested incomprehension.
“I am afraid,” he said, “that I don’t quite get you. What tip? What are you talking about?”
“You called up the station, Mr. Crumb. We had central trace the call. There is no use—”
Crumb interrupted him with a gesture. He didn’t want the officer to go so far that it might embarrass him to retract.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, a light of understanding illuminating his face. “I believe I have it. What was the message? I think I can explain it.”
“We think you can, too,” agreed the sergeant, “seein’ you phoned the message.”
“No, but I didn’t,” said Crumb, “although I guess it may have come over my phone all right. I’ll tell you what I know about it. A car drove up a little while after dinner, and a man came to the door. He was a stranger. He asked if I had a phone, and if he could use it. He said he wanted to phone an important and confidential message to his wife. He emphasised the ‘confidential,’ and there was nothing for me to do but go in the other room until he was through. He wanted to pay for the use of the phone. I didn’t hear what he said over the phone, but I guess that explains the matter. I’ll be careful next time a stranger wants to use my phone.”
“I would,” said the sergeant drily. “Would you know him if you saw him again?”
“I sure would,” said Crumb.
They rose to go.
“Nice little place you have here,” remarked one of them, looking around.
“Yes,” said Crumb, “it is very comfortable. Wouldn’t you like to look it over?”
“No,” replied the officer. “Not now—maybe some other time.”
Crumb grinned after he had closed the door behind them.
“I wonder,” he mused, “if that was a threat or a prophecy!”
A week later Slick Allen was sentenced to a year in the county jail for having morphine in his possession.