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- The Ear in the Wall - 30/51 -
"It's all due to a special repeating coil of high efficiency absolutely balanced as to resistances, number of turns of wire, and so on which I have used--Yes--Miss Kendall--we are here. Now please don't let things go on too far. At the first sign of danger, call. We can get in all right. You have the evidence now that will hold in any court as far as closing up that joint goes, and I'll take a chance of breaking into--well, Hades, to get to you. Good-bye.
"I guess it is Hades there," he resumed to me. "She has just telephoned that one of the dope fiends upstairs--a man, so that you see they admit both men and women there, after all--had become violent and Harris had to be called to quiet him before he ran amuck. She said she was absolutely sure, this time at least, that it was Harris. As I was saying about this phantom circuit, it is used a good deal now. Sometimes they superimpose a telephone conversation over the proper arrangement of telegraph messages and vice versa.
"What's that?" cried Craig, suddenly breaking off. "They heard you talking that last time, and you have locked the door against them? They are battering it down? Move something heavy, if you can, up against it--the bureau, anything to brace it. We'll be there directly. Come on, Walter. There isn't time to get around Broadway for that fixed post cop. We must do it ourselves. Hurry."
Craig dashed breathlessly out on the street. I followed closely.
"Hurry," he panted. "Those people haven't any use for anyone that they think will snitch on them."
As we turned the corner, we ran squarely into a sergeant slowly going his rounds with eyes conveniently closed to what he was paid not to see.
Kennedy stopped and grabbed his arm.
"There's a girl up here in 72 who is being mistreated," he cried. "Come. You must help us get her out."
"Aw, g'wan. Whatyer givin' us? 72? That's a residence."
"Say--look here. I've got your number. You'll be up on the most serious charges of your whole career if you don't act on the information I have. All of Ike the Dropper's money'll go for attorney's fees and someone will land in Sing Sing. Now, come!"
We had gained the steps of the house. Outside all was dark, blank, and bare. There was every evidence of the most excessive outward order and decency--not a sign of the conflict that was raging within.
Before the policeman could pull the bell, which would have been a first warning of trouble to the inmates, Kennedy had jumped from the high stoop to a narrow balcony running along the front windows of the first story, had smashed the glass into splinters with a heavy object which he had carried concealed under his coat, and was engaged in a herculean effort to wrench apart some iron bars which had been carefully concealed behind the discreetly drawn shades.
As one yielded, he panted, "No use to try the door. The grill work inside guards that too well. There goes another."
Inside now we could hear cries that told us that the whole house was roused, that even the worst of the drug fiends had come at least partly to his senses and begun to realize his peril. From Margot's beauty parlour a couple of girls and a man staggered forth in a vain effort to seem to leave quietly.
"Close that place, too, officer," cried Kennedy to the now astounded policeman. "We'll attend to this house."
The sergeant slowly lumbered across in time to let two more couples escape. It was evident that he hated the job; indeed, would have arrested Kennedy in the old days before Carton had thrown such a scare into the grafters. But Kennedy's assurance had flabbergasted him and he obeyed.
Another bar yielded, and another. Together we squeezed in and found ourselves in a dark front parlour. There was nothing to distinguish it from any ordinary reception room in the blackness.
Hurried footsteps were heard as if several people were retreating into the next house. Down the hall we hastened to the back room.
A second we listened. All was silent. Was Clare safe? It looked ominous. Still the door, partly battered in, was closed.
"Miss Kendall!" called Craig, bending down close to the door.
"Is it you, Professor Kennedy?" came back a faint voice from the other side.
"Yes. Are you all right?"
There was no answer, but she was evidently tugging at something which appeared to be a heavy piece of furniture braced against the door. At last the bolt was slipped back, and there in the doorway she swayed, half exhausted but safe.
"Yes, all right," murmured Clare, bracing herself against the chiffonier which she had moved away from the door, "just a little shaky from the drugs--but all right. Don't bother about me, now. I can take care of myself. I'll feel better in a minute. Upstairs-- that is where I think that woman is. Please, please don't--I'm all right--truly. Upstairs."
Kennedy had taken her gently by the arm and she sank down in an easy chair.
"Please hurry," she implored. "You may be too late."
She had risen again in spite of us and was out in the lower hall. We could hear a footstep on the stairs.
"There she goes, the woman who has been hiding up there, Madame--"
Clare cut the words short.
A woman had hastily descended the steps, evidently seeing her opportunity to escape while we were in the back of the house. She had reached the street door, which now was open, and the flaming arc light in front of the house shone brightly on her.
I looked, expecting to see our dark-haired, olive-skinned Marie. I stared in amazement. Instead, this woman was fair, her hair was flaxen, her figure more slim, even her features were different. She was a stranger. I could not recollect ever having seen her.
Again I strained my eyes, thinking it might be Betty Blackwell at last, but this woman bore no resemblance apparently to her. She looked older, more mature.
In my haste I noted that she had a bandage about her face, as if she had been injured recently, for there seemed to be blood on it where it had worked itself loose in her flight. She gave one glance at us, and quickened her pace at seeing us so close. The bandage, already loose, slipped off her face and fell to the floor. Still she did not seem other than a stranger to me, though I had a half-formed notion that I had seen that face somewhere before. She did not stop to pick the bandage up. She had gained the door and was down the front step on the sidewalk before we could stop her.
Taxicabs in droves seemed to have collected, like buzzards over a dead body. They were doing a thriving business carrying away those who sought to escape. Into one by which a man was waiting in the shadow the woman hurried. The man looked for all the world like Dr. Harris. An instant later the chauffeur was gone.
The policeman had the front door of Madame Margot's covered all right, so efficiently that he was neglecting everything else. From the basement now and then a scurrying figure catapulted itself out and was lost in the curious crowd that always collects at any time of day or night on a New York street when there is any excitement.
"It is of no use to expect to capture anyone now," exclaimed Craig, as we hurried back into the dope joint. "I hardly expected to do it. All I panted was to protect Miss Kendall. But we have the evidence against this joint that will close it for good."
He stooped and picked up the bandage.
"I think I'll keep that," he remarked thoughtfully. "I wonder what that blonde woman wore that for?"
"She MUST be up there," reiterated Clare, who had followed us. "I heard them talking, it seemed to me only the moment before I heard you in the hall."
The excitement seemed now to have the effect of quieting her unstrung nerves and carrying her through.
"Let us go upstairs," said Kennedy.
From room to room we hurried in the darkness, lighting the lights. They were all empty, yet each one gave its mute testimony to the character of its use and its former occupants. There were opium lay-outs with pipes, lamps, yen haucks, and other paraphernalia in some. In others had been cocaine snuffers. There seemed to be everything for drug users of every kind.
At last in a small room in front on the top floor we came upon a girl, half insensible from a drug. She was vainly trying to make herself presentable for the street, ramblingly talking to herself in the meantime.
Again my hopes rose that we had found either the mysterious Marie Margot or Betty Blackwell. A second glance caused us all to pause in surprise and disappointment.
It was the Titian-haired girl from the Montmartre office.
Miss Kendall, recovering from the effects of the drugs which she had been compelled to take in her heroic attempt to get at the dope joint, was endeavouring to quiet the girl from the Montmartre, who, now vaguely recollecting us, seemed to realize that something had gone wrong and was trembling and crying
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