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Title: The Gray Mask
Author: Wadsworth Camp
Release Date: July 22, 2010 [eBook #33230]
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***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE GRAY MASK***
E-text prepared by Darleen Dove, Mary Meehan,
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE GRAY MASK BY WADSWORTH CAMP AUTHOR OF "THE ABANDONED ROOM" "THE HOUSE OF FEAR," ETC. FRONTISPIECE BY
WALTER De MARIS
GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1920 COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF
TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES,
INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN Copyright, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, by P. F. Collier & Sons, Inc.,
in the United States, Great Britain and Canada
Why, George, you're kneeling where he lay'" CONTENTS
CHAPTER I. Garth Is Shown a Gray Mask
CHAPTER II. It Opens Nora's Eyes
CHAPTER III. In the Steel Room
CHAPTER IV. Garth Buys a Boutonnière
CHAPTER V. What Happened at Elmford
CHAPTER VI. A Crying Through the Silence
CHAPTER VII. Nora Fears for Garth
CHAPTER VIII. Through the Dark
CHAPTER IX. The Phantom Army
CHAPTER X. The Coins and the Chinaman
CHAPTER XI. Nora Disappears in an Empty House
CHAPTER XII. The Hidden Door
CHAPTER XIII. Alsop's Incredible Visitor
CHAPTER XIV. The Levantine Who Guarded a Curtain
CHAPTER XV. The Veiled Woman
CHAPTER XVI. A Note from the Dead
CHAPTER XVII. The Knife by the Lifeless Hand
CHAPTER XVIII. The Stained Robe
CHAPTER XIX. Payment Is Demanded for the Gray Mask
CHAPTER XX. The Black Cap
CHAPTER XXI. The Antics of a Train
Garth, in response to the unforeseen summons, hurried along the hallway and opened the inspector's door. As he faced the rugged figure behind the desk, and gazed into those eyes whose somnolence concealed a perpetual vigil, his heart quickened.
He had been assigned to the detective bureau less than six months. That brief period, however, had revealed a thousand eccentricities of his chief. The pudgy hand beating a tattoo on the table desk, the lips working at each other thirstily, the doubt that slipped from behind the veil of the sleepy eyes, were all like largely printed letters to Garth—letters that spelled delicate work for him, possibly an exceptional danger.
"Where were you going, Garth?"
"Home. That is—"
Garth hesitated and cleared his throat.
"First—I thought I might drop in on Nora for a minute."
With a quick gesture the inspector brushed the mention of his daughter aside. Abruptly he verified Garth's hazard.
"How much do you love your life?"
The inspector's voice possessed the growling quality of an animal. A warning rather than an aggressive roar, it issued from a throat remotely surviving behind great masses of flesh. Garth had rarely heard it raised, nor, for that matter, had it ever deceived him as to the other's amiability and gentleness of soul. Its present tone of apologetic regret startled him.
"On the whole I value my life rather highly just now," he answered, trying to smile.
"Then turn this down and nothing said," the inspector went on. "It's volunteer's work. No gilt-edged prophecies. It's touch and go whether whoever tackles it eats bacon and eggs to-morrow morning."
"What's the job?" Garth asked.
The inspector glanced up.
"You've heard of that fellow without a face?"
Garth stared until he thought he understood.
"One of those Bellevue cases? Awful burns?"
The heavy head shook impatiently.
"No. This fellow Simmons in Chicago—several years ago now—experimenting with some new explosive in a laboratory. He got his arm up in time to save his eyes."
"Seems to me I remember," Garth began.
"Worn a gray mask ever since," the inspector said.
He drew a telegram from a pile of papers at his elbow, spread it on the writing-pad, and tapped it with his thick forefinger. Garth wondered what was coming. A feeling of uneasiness compelled him to lower his eyes before the other's steady gaze. There was something uncanny about this thought of a mask, worn always to hide a horror.
The inspector's tapping quickened to an expression of anger. His voice exposed a cherished resentment.
"No doubt about your having heard of our friend Hennion?"
Garth started forward, resting his closed fists on the desk top. His face was excited, unbelieving.
"Mean to say there's a chance—"
The inspector ceased his tapping. He looked up slyly.
"A real one at last. You know what that means. It's the job. Take it or leave it. I won't ask you to go where I mightn't have cared to go myself at your age."
Garth thought rapidly. His chief had been right. The man who tried to trip Hennion needn't worry about to-morrow's breakfast until his eyes greeted the sun in the east.
He, with the rest of the bureau, could point to half a dozen men as vassals of this almost mythical figure. He, like the rest, had frequently diagnosed obscure crimes as the workmanship of the Hennion group. But he knew also that nothing had ever been proved against this organization of criminals, which was unique, because, in addition to prosaic brutality, it appeared to be informed by brains of a brilliant and inscrutable character.
"How much of a chance?" Garth asked.
All the drowsiness left the inspector's eyes.
"Maybe to sit in with them to-night. I've never had a ghost of a show with a stool before, and this is the night of all nights. One of these crooks has been boasting. He said—and I have it straight—'To-night we play our ace.' Get that, Garth! What must an ace mean to that lot, eh? And the president's here, but he'll be well looked after. Still there are lots of big men in this town whose sudden death would make a noise more like a home-run than a funeral. Or, if it's burglary, play it to scale. These fellows would unlock the gates of Hades while Satan slept in the vestibule. I've been saying to myself all day I've got to find out what that ace is and stack the cards, and at the same time I've been asking myself what the devil I was going to do about it. But the luck's changed."
Garth breathed hard.
"How do you expect to throw sand in the eyes of that outfit?"
"Give me," the inspector answered slowly, his rumble approximating a whisper, "someone with no nerves to speak of and a build like this faceless man Simmons."
He looked up. His eyes were very sleepy again.
"You have that build, Garth. All you need is a plain, dark brown suit."
He raised the telegram.
"This is Simmons' description as he left Chicago last evening. He expects to arrive on the Western express to-night. He's looking for someone to meet him and take him to the headquarters of the Hennion gang."
Garth's face lightened.
"Has he a record?"
"A suspect, chiefly because he's tied up with that anarchist crowd out there—an analyst of explosives, a chemist, cursed by this hideous accident—dangerous as giant powder itself! That's why his mail's been watched, how they got onto this move. But they've no details for us. Maybe Simmons himself doesn't know what he's up against."
With a secretive air he opened a drawer and lifted out a tightly-woven gray cloth. It was pierced by two holes above and a long, narrow opening below. From its edges four elastic straps dangled.
"I had it made," he said, holding it out tentatively, "so that, perhaps, you might find out instead of Simmons."
Garth took the cloth and fitted it over his face. It left visible a small scar on his neck. The inspector pointed at this with a pleased, wondering smile.
"That scar peeping will fetch them. Put on a brown suit and you'll pass."
"Where," Garth asked, "does Simmons change cars?"
"I'll have the express stopped at the end of the bridge above Garrison. Not much chance of spies there. A couple of my men will take him off and keep him out of mischief while you get on. Understand? You'll go up on the West Shore and ferry over from West Point. You're on?"
"Sure. You'd jump at the chance yourself, sir."
He removed the mask. The inspector handed him a piece of frayed white paper.
"Did you notice me fingering this just now?" he asked anxiously.
Garth shook his head.
"Then take it, and, when the time comes, play with it that way yourself. Scratch your instructions on it with a match, a toothpick, anything handy. It will stay white, but I can make whatever you put on it as visible as headlines in a war extra. You'll reach town after ten. I'll hold back instructions until eleven in case these fellows have any spies in the department. But after that you can drop it near a uniformed policeman with a fair chance of its reaching me."
"You'll try to trail us, too?" Garth asked.
The inspector grinned sheepishly.
"Of course I'll try. I'll probably have to let it go at that."
"Yes—slippery," Garth answered.
Now that his offer was accepted, and his plan understood, the inspector gave way to a disquieting nervousness. He stood up and stepped around the desk, putting his hand on Garth's shoulder.
"Watch out for yourself," he faltered. "I don't want another Kridel case on my conscience."
The name dampened Garth's enthusiasm. He had never known Joe Kridel who, a year ago, had been the ascending star of the bureau. But the manner of the young man's death was depressingly familiar to him—found stabbed through the heart in a private house whose dwellers had heard no alarm. The key to that puzzle had never been discovered. Even the inspector had harbored the nature of Kridel's assignment that night of his murder.
"I hate," the inspector continued, that note of regret in his voice again, "to give a man I like such an ugly risk."
This reached Garth as definite encouragement to words which he had restrained for some time with difficulty. To loose them, now, however, would be, in a way, unfair to his chief; would, in every sense, form no fitting prelude to his formidable and dangerous task. He contented himself, therefore, with an unsatisfactory compromise.
"If I've time I may drop in for a chat with Nora after all."
"But you won't alarm her with this?"
The inspector was very friendly.
"You know I wouldn't be surprised if Nora had taken kind of a fancy for you herself."
Garth's face reddened. He turned away.
The inspector sighed.
"Oh, well. There's plenty of time to think of that when you bring yourself back—alive."
Before making his arrangements Garth called at the inspector's flat. This was, in fact, a preparation. Without seeing Nora he felt he would not be armed to enter these unfair lists with death.
He found her by the window in the sitting room. She looked, he thought, more Latin than usual, although the black clothes she habitually wore accentuated her dark hair and flashing eyes, the olive complexion and regular features she had inherited from her Italian mother.
She smiled up at Garth, and, as always in face of that smile, he recalled the unexplored neutral ground where their minds had never really met. This impression had unquestionably retarded the development of their relations. It had until now held their emotions in the leash of friendship. Garth had no idea of snapping that cord at his entrance, but Nora's proximity and the suddenness of an unexpected gesture distilled logic and fairness for the moment's irresistible intoxication.
Their hands, reaching for the book she had dropped, met. The quick contact was galvanic to