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- Constance Dunlap - 40/46 -
"Yes. He's a lobbygow for the grapevine system they have now of selling the dope in spite of this new law."
"Where does he get the stuff!" she asked.
The waiter shrugged his shoulders. "Nobody knows, I guess. I don't. But he gets it in spite of the law and peddles it. Oh, it's all adulterated--with some white stuff, I don't know what, and the price they charge is outrageous. They must make an ounce retail at five or six times the cost. Oh, you can bet that some one who is at the top is making a pile of money out of that graft, all right."
He said it not with any air of righteous indignation, but with a certain envy.
Constance was thinking the thing over in her mind. Where did the "coke" come from? The "grapevine" system interested her.
"Sleighbells" seemed to have disposed of all the "coke" he had brought with him. As the last packet went, he rose slowly, and shuffled out. Constance, who knew that Adele would not come for some time, determined to follow him. She rose quietly and, under cover of a party going out, managed to disappear without, as far as she knew, letting Drummond catch a glimpse of her. This would not only employ her time, but it was better to avoid Drummond as far as possible, at present, too, she felt.
At a distance of about half a block she followed the curiously shuffling figure. He crossed the avenue, turned and went uptown, turned again, and, before she knew it, disappeared in a drug store. She had been so engrossed in following the lobbygow that it was with a start that she realized that he had entered Muller's.
What did it all mean? Was the druggist, Muller, the man higher up? She recalled suddenly her own experience of the afternoon. Had Muller tried to palm off something on her? The more she thought of it the more sure she was that the powders she had taken had been doped.
Slowly, turning the matter over in her mind, she returned to the Mayfair. As she peered in cautiously before entering she saw that Drummond had gone. Adele had not come in yet, and she went in and sat down again in her old place.
Perhaps half an hour later, outside, she heard a car drive up with a furious rattle of gears. She looked out of the window and, as far as she could determine in the shadows, it was Dr. Price. A woman got out, Adele. For a moment she stopped to talk, then Dr. Price waved a gay good-bye and was off. All she could catch was a hasty, "No; I don't think I'd better come in to-night," from him.
As Adele entered the Mayfair she glanced about, caught sight of Constance and came and sat down by her.
It would have been impossible for her to enter unobserved, so popular was she. It was not long before the two girls whom Constance had seen dealing with "Sleighbells" sauntered over.
"Your friend was here to-night," remarked one to Adele.
"Which one?" laughed Adele.
"The one who admired your dancing the other night and wanted to take lessons."
"You mean the young fellow who was selling something?" asked Constance pointedly.
"Oh, no," returned the girl quite casually. "That was Sleighbells," and they all laughed.
Constance thought immediately of Drummond. "The other one, then," she said, "the thick-set man who was all alone!"
"Yes; he went away afterward. Do you know him?"
"I've seen him somewhere," evaded Constance; "but I just can't quite place him."
She had not noticed Adele particularly until now. Under the light she had a peculiar worn look, the same as she had had before.
The waiter came up to them. "Your turn is next," he hinted to Adele.
"Excuse me a minute," she apologized to the rest of the party. "I must fix up a bit. No," she added to Constance, "don't come with me."
She returned from the dressing room a different person, and plunged into the wild dance for which the limited orchestra was already tuning up. It was a veritable riot of whirl and rhythm. Never before had Constance seen Adele dance with such abandon. As she executed the wild mazes of a newly imported dance, she held even the jaded Mayfair spellbound. And when she concluded with one daring figure and sat down, flushed and excited, the diners applauded and even shouted approval. It was an event for even the dance-mad Mayfair.
Constance did not share in the applause. At last she understood. Adele was a dope fiend, too. She felt it with a sense of pain. Always, she knew, the fiends tried to get away alone somewhere for a few minutes to snuff some of their favorite nepenthe. She had heard before of the cocaine "snuffers" who took a little of the deadly powder, placed it on the back of the hand, and inhaled it up the nose with a quick intake of breath. Adele was one. It was not Adele who danced. It was the dope.
Constance was determined to speak.
"You remember that man the girls spoke of?" she began.
"Yes. What of him?" asked Adele with almost a note of defiance.
"Well, I really DO know him," confessed Constance. "He is a detective."
Constance watched her companion curiously, for at the mere word she had stopped short and faced her. "He is?" she asked quickly. "Then that was why Dr. Price--"
She managed to suppress the remark and continued her walk home without another word.
In Adele's little apartment Constance was quick to note that the same haggard look had returned to her friend's face.
Adele had reached for her pocketbook with a sort of clutching eagerness and was about to leave the room.
Constance rose. "Why don't you give up the stuff?" she asked earnestly. "Don't you want to?"
For a moment Adele faced her angrily. Then her real nature seemed slowly to come to the surface. "Yes," she murmured frankly.
"Then why don't you?" pleaded Constance.
"I haven't the power. There is an indescribable excitement to do something great, to make a mark. It's soon gone, but while it lasts, I can sing, dance, do anything--and then--every part of my body begins crying for mere of the stuff again."
There was no longer any necessity of concealment from Constance. She took a pinch of the stuff, placed it on the back of her wrist and quickly sniffed it. The change in her was magical. From a quivering wretched girl she became a self-confident neurasthenic.
"I don't care," she laughed hollowly now.
"Yes, I know what you are going to tell me. Soon I'll be 'hunting the cocaine bug,' as they call it, imagining that in my skin, under the flesh, are worms crawling, perhaps see them, see the little animals running around and biting me."
She said it with a half-reckless cynicism. "Oh, you don't know. There are two souls in the cocainist--one tortured by the pain of not having the stuff, the other laughing and mocking at the dangers of it. It stimulates. It makes your mind work--without effort, by itself. And it gives such visions of success, makes you feel able to do so much, and to forget. All the girls use it."
"Where do they get it?" asked Constance "I thought the new law prohibited it."
"Get it?" repeated Adele. "Why, they get it from that fellow they call 'Sleighbells.' They call it 'snow,' you know, and the girls who use it 'snowbirds.' The law does prohibit its sale, but--"
She paused significantly.
"Yes," agreed Constance; "but Sleighbells is only a part of the system after all. Who is the man at the top?"
Adele shrugged her shoulders and was silent. Still, Constance did not fail to note a sudden look of suspicion which Adele shot at her. Was Adele shielding some one?
Constance knew that some one must be getting rich from the traffic, probably selling hundreds of ounces a week and making thousands of dollars. Somehow she felt a sort of indignation at the whole thing. Who was it? Who was the man higher up?
In the morning as she was working about her little kitchenette an idea came to her. Why not hire the vacant apartment cross the hall from Adele? An optician, who was a friend of hers, in the course of a recent conversation had mentioned an invention, a model of which he had made for the inventor. She would try it.
Since, with Constance, the outlining of a plan was tantamount to the execution, it was not many hours later before she had both the apartment and the model of the invention.
Her wall separated her from the drug store and by careful calculation she determined about where came the little prescription department. Carefully, so as to arouse no suspicion, she began to bore away at the wall with various tools, until finally she had a small, al-most imperceptible opening. It was tedious work, and toward the end needed great care so as not to excite suspicion. But finally she was rewarded. Through it she could see just a trace of daylight, and by squinting could see a row of bottles on a shelf
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