Geraldine Bonner.

The Black Eagle Mystery



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"Marry Mr. Barker!" I cried out astonished.

"Yes Ц that's what I thought was coming."

Believe me, I was surprised. She'd never dropped a hint of it.

"Why didn't you tell me that before?" I asked.

"Because Tony Ford told me not to. He said I wasn't to tell anybody Ц that Barker being such a big bug it would get in the papers and that might break it all up."

"But are you sure? Did he act like he was in love with her?"

We were passing one of those arc lights on Park Avenue, and the scornful look she cast at me, tears and all, was plain.

"Wouldn't you think a man was in love Ц even if he was a magnate Ц who'd buy a house and lot just for an excuse to see a lady?"

"Did you ever hear him making love to her?"

"No Ц but I didn't need to. I've been made love to enough myself to know the signs without hearing. First it was all business, and I believed it was only that. Then, one day when Mr. Ford was out, he came in and lingered round making conversation. You know the way they do it, and for all he was a magnate Mr. Barker was just the same as the errand boy. That's the way it is with men Ц they got no variety. He wanted to know about her home and the farm and before that. Oh, Indiana, a fine state, Indiana! It made me laugh to see him with his hook nose and gray hair handing out the same line of talk that Billy Dunn gave me when I was in the linen envelope place."

"Did she seem to care for him?"

"Not at first. She was very formal, just a bow and then right off about the bungalow. But he had the symptoms from the start Ц looking at her like he couldn't take his eyes off and not caring whether the bungalow was as small as a hencoop or as big as the Waldorf.

"They went along that way for a while then something happened Ц a fight, I guess when Tony Ford and I weren't there. Anyhow, after it she was so cold and distant you'd wonder he had the nerve to come. Then one afternoon he came in and asked her low Ц I heard him Ц if he could have a few words with her in the private office. She hesitated but I guess she couldn't see her way to refusing, so in they went and had a long powwow. Whatever it was they said to each other it smoothed out all the wrinkles. After that she was as different to him as summer is to winter. In my own mind I thought they were engaged, for she'd brighten up when he came in and smile. I never saw her smile like that at anyone, and once when they thought I couldn't hear I heard him call her 'dear.' They'd go into the private office and talk. Gee! how they talked! And always low like they were afraid Tony Ford and I might overhear. And on the top of all that he disappears."

"Perhaps that's why she's been sick."

"Sure it is. It's bad enough to lose your own money, but wouldn't it make you sick to lose millions, let alone the man you're in love with, even if he has a nose you could hang an umbrella on?"

"Poor thing!" I said, for I could see now what the lady lying on the couch had been up against.

"We're all poor things," said Iola, beginning to get sorry for herself again.

"Miss Whitehall, and the man that's dead, and Tony Ford who's lost his job, and me, poor unfortunate me, that I thought was on velvet for the rest of my days."

Babbitts didn't get home till late that night, but I was so full of what Iola had said that I waited up for him. When he did come, he hadn't but one kiss, when I pulled away from him and told him.

"Doesn't it seem to you, Soapy," I said, "that that story ought to go back to Mr. Whitney?"

He looked at me sideways with a sly, questioning glance.

"Why?" he asked.

"Why, if Barker's in love with her don't you think maybe he'll try and creep back or get in touch with her some way?"

He burst out laughing.

"Oh, Morningdew, there's a lot of nice things about you, but one of the nicest is that you never disappoint a fellow. I was wondering if you'd see it. Go back to Mr. Whitney? It'll go back the first thing tomorrow morning and you'll take it."

CHAPTER V
MOLLY TELLS THE STORY

The next morning Babbitts and I started out for the offices of Whitney & Whitney. They're far downtown, near Wall Street, way up in the top of a skyscraper where the air is good even in summer. I'd been in them before, and it was funny as we shot up in the elevator to think of those first visits, when I was so scared of Mr. Whitney Ц "the chief," as Jack Reddy calls him, and it's his name all right.

We were shown right into his office, like we'd come with a million-dollar lawsuit, and when he saw me he got up and held out his big, white hand.

"Well, well, Molly! How's the smartest girl in New York?" Then he looked from me to Babbitts with a twinkle in his eye. "She's looking fine, my boy. You've taken good care of her." And then back to me, "Treats you well, eh? If he doesn'tЦ†remember Ц Whitney & Whitney's services are yours to command."

That's the way he is, always glad to see you, always with his joke. But, there's another side to him Ц a sort of terrible, fierce quiet Ц I've seen it and Ц Gee whiz! If he ever got after me the way I once saw him get after a man he thought was guilty I'd crawl under the table and die right there on the carpet. He isn't a bit good-looking Ц a big, clumsy sort of man, stoop-shouldered, and with a head of rough gray hair and eyes set deep under bushy brows. When he questions you those eyes look at you kind and pleasant Ц but, forget it! There's not a thing they don't see. You think your face is solid flesh and blood. It is to most Ц but to Mr. Whitney it's no more than a pane of glass.

His son George Ц he was there and Jack Reddy too Ц doesn't favor his father. He's an awful stylish chap, with blond hair sleeked down on his skull, and glasses set pert on the bridge of his nose. They say he's smart, but not as big as the old man, and he hasn't got the same genial, easy way. But he's always very cordial to us, and even if he wasn't his father's son and a close friend of Jack Reddy's, I guess I'd like him anyhow.

They were very interested in what I had to say, but with Mr. Whitney himself you never can guess what he thinks. He sits listening, slouched down in his armchair, with his shirt bosom crumpled, like an old bear ruminating Ц or hibernating is it?†Ц in a hollow tree. When I was through he stretched out his hand, took a cigar from a box on the table and said:

"Just call up the Azalea Woods Estates, George, and find out how long Miss Whitehall expects to be there." Then as Mr. George left the room he turned to me and said, "Want to make some money?"

I have a lot of money Ц ten thousand dollars, the reward they gave me after the Hesketh Mystery was solved Ц so money doesn't cut much ice with me. But doing something for Mr. Whitney does, and I guessed right off he had a little job for Molly Babbitts.

"I want to do whatever Whitney & Whitney asks," I said. "That's a privilege and you don't get paid for privileges."

He burst out laughing and said:

"It's easily seen half of you's Irish, Molly. There is something you can do for me, and whether you want it or not, you'll be paid for your services just as O'Mally, my own detective, is. Here it is. That information you got from your little friend is valuable. As you were sharp enough to see, Barker may try to get in touch with Miss Whitehall. To my mind he'd be more inclined to try her office than her home where there's a mother and a servant to overhear and ask questions. What would you think about going on the switchboard again?"

My old work, the one thing I could do!

"Bully!" I cried out, forgetting my language in my excitement.

Mr. Whitney smiled:

"Then we're agreed. As soon as I can arrange matters I'll let you know, probably this afternoon. I don't now know just where we'll put you but I fancy in the Black Eagle's own central. And I don't need to say to both of you that you're to keep as silent as you did in the Hesketh case."

I smiled to myself at that. Mr. Whitney knew, no one better, that when it comes to keeping mum a deaf mute hasn't anything over me.

Just then Mr. George came back. He had got Tony Ford on the wire and heard from him that Miss Whitehall might be in her offices some time yet, as she was trying to sublet them.

Late that afternoon I had my instructions. The next morning I was to go to the Black Eagle Building and begin work as a hello girl. If questioned I was to answer that all I knew was Miss McCalmont, the old girl, had been transferred and I was temporarily installed in her place. It was my business to listen to every phone message that went into or out from the Azalea Woods Estates. I would be at liberty to give my full attention as almost every office had its own wire. Miss Whitehall had had hers but it had been disconnected since her failure, and she was only accessible through the building's central. The work was so easy it seemed a shame to take the money.

The first two days there was nothing doing and it was desperate dull. The telephone office was off the main hall to one side of the elevator, a bright little place on the street level. A good part of the time I sat at the desk looking out at the people passing like shadows across the ground glass of the windows. There were some calls for Miss Whitehall, all business. These, no matter what they were, I listened to but got nothing. Sometimes she answered, sometimes Tony Ford.

My desk was set so I could see out through the doorway into the hall, and the first morning I was there I saw her pass. She looked better than she had that night in her own apartment, but her face had a grave, worried expression which you couldn't be surprised at, seeing how things stood with her.

It was the second evening and I was thinking of getting ready to go Ц the building's exchange closed at half-past six Ц when a tall fellow with a swagger in his walk and his shoulders held back like he thought a lot of his shape, stopped in the doorway and called out:

"Hello, Miss McCalmont. How goes the times?"

I looked up surprised and when he saw it wasn't Miss McCalmont he looked surprised too, raising his eyebrows and opening his eyes with an exaggerated expression like he did it to make you laugh. He was a fine-looking chap if size does it Ц over six feet and wide across the chest Ц but his face, broad and flat, with cheeks too large for his features, wasn't the kind I admire. Also I noticed that the good-natured look it had was contradicted by the gray, small eyes, sharp as a gimlet and hard as a nail. I supposed he was some clerk from one of the offices come to ask Miss McCalmont to dinner Ц they're always doing that Ц and answered careless, fingering at the plugs:

"Miss McCalmont's been transferred."

"You don't say," says he, leaning easy against the doorpost. "Since when is that?"

"Since I came," I answered.

He grinned, showing teeth as white as split almonds, and his eyes over the grin began to size me up, shrewd and curious. Taking him for some fresh guy that Miss McCalmont was jollying along Ц they do that too Ц I paid no attention to him, humming a tune and looking languid at my finger nails. He wasn't phazed a little bit, but making himself comfortable against the doorpost, said:

"Going to stay on here?"

"The central'll give you all the information you want," I answered and wheeling round in my chair looked at the clock. "Ten minutes past six. How slow the time goes when you're dull."

He burst out laughing and he did have a jolly, infectious kind of laugh.

"Say," he said, "you're a live one, aren't you?"

"I wouldn't be long, if I had to listen to all the guys that ain't got anything better to do than block up doorways and try to be fresh."

He laughed louder and lolled up against the woodwork.

"I like you fine," said he. "Are you a permanency or just a fleeting vision?"

"Talking of fleeting visions, ain't it about your dinner hour?"

"You act to me as if this was your first job," was his answer, sort of thoughtful.

Wouldn't it make you smile! It did me Ц a small quiet smile all to myself. He saw it, dropped his head to one side and said, as smooth and sweet as molasses:

"What do they call you, little one?"

It was all I could do to keep from laughing, but I crumpled up my forehead into a scowl and looked cross at him:

"What my name is you'll never know and what yours is you needn't tell me for I've guessed. I've met members of your tribe before Ц it's large and prominent Ц the ancient and honorable order of jackasses."

He made me a low bow.

"So flattered at this speedy recognition," he says, airy and smiling. "You may know the tribe, but not the individual. Permit me to introduce myself Ц Anthony Ford."

I gave a start and turned it into a stretch. So this was the wonderful Tony Ford Ц a slick customer all right.

"That don't convey anything to my mind," I answered. "A rose by any other name still has its thorns."

"For more data Ц I'm the managing clerk of the Azalea Woods Estates, see seventeenth floor, first door to your left."

"Ain't I heard you were closed up there?"

"We are. This may be the last time you'll ever see me, so look well at me. Er Ц what did you say your name was?"

"One of the unemployed!" I said, falling back in my chair and rolling my eyes up at the ceiling. "Hangs round my switchboard and hasn't the price of a dinner in his jeans."

"I was too hasty," said he; "this isn't your first job."

"If your place is shut what are you doing here Ц not at this present moment, the actions of fools are an old story to me Ц but in the building?"

"Closing up the business. Did you think I was nosing round for an unlocked door or an open safe? Does this fresh, innocent countenance look like the mug of a burglar?" He grinned and thrusting a hand into his pocket rattled the loose silver there. "Hear that? Has a sound like a dinner, hasn't it?"

That made me mad Ц the vain fool thinking he could flirt with me as he had with Iola. I slanted a side look at him and his broad shining face with the eyes that didn't match it gave me a feeling like I longed to slap it good and hard. Gee, I'd have loved to feel my hand come whangup against one of those fat cheeks! But it's the curse of being a perfect lady that you can't hit when you feel like it Ц except with your tongue.

"I ain't known many burglars," I answered, "but now that I look at you it does come over me that you've a family resemblance to those few I've met. Seeing which I'll decline the honor of your invitation. Safety first."

That riled him. He flushed up and a surly look passed over his face making it ugly. Then he shrugged up his shoulders and leaned off the doorpost, giving a hitch to the front of his coat.

"I generally like a dash of tabasco in mine," says he, "but when it comes to the whole bottle spilled in the dish, it's too hot. Just make a note of that against our next meeting. I don't like being disappointed twice. Good evening."

And off he went, swaggering down the hall.

On the way home I wondered what Soapy'd say when I told him, but when he came in Tony Ford went straight out of my head for at last there was exciting news Ц Barker had been located in Philadelphia.

Two people had seen him there, one a man who knew him well, and saw him the night before in a taxi, the other an Italian who kept a newsstand. That same evening between eight and nine Barker had stopped at the stand and bought several New York papers. The Italian, who was quick-witted, recognized him from his pictures in the papers, and reported to the police.

"He's evidently only going out after dark," said Babbitts. "But a man can't hide for long whose picture's spread broadcast over the country."

"And who's got a face like the American Eagle after it's grown a white mustache," I answered.

That was Thursday night. Friday morning I toddled down to my job, feeling there wasn't much in it and that when I came home I'd hear Barker was landed and it would be domestic life again for little Molly.

The day went by quiet and uneventful as the others had been. I read a novel and sewed at a tray cloth, and now and then jacked in for a call. It was getting on for evening and I was thinking about home and dinner when Ц Bang! came two calls, one right after the other, that made me feel I was earning my money.

The first was at a quarter to five. Our central came sharp and clear:

"Hello, Gramercy 3503 Ц Long Distance Ц Philadelphia's calling you."

Philadelphia! Can you see me stiffening up, with my hand ready to raise the cam?

"All right Ц Gramercy 3503."

I could hear the girls in our central, the wait of hum and broken sounds Ц how well I knew it!†Ц and then a distant voice, brisk and business-like, "Hello, Philadelphia Ц Waiting." Then a pause and presently the whispering jar of the wires, "Here's your party. Gramercy 3503, all right for Philadelphia."

Running over those miles and miles the voice Ц a man's Ц came clear as a bell.

"I want to speak to the Azalea Woods Estates."

I made the connection, softly lifted the cam, and listened in.

"Is this the office of the Azalea Woods Estates?"

A woman's voice answered, as close as if she was in the next room:

"Yes Ц who is it?"

"Is Mr. Anthony Ford there?"

"No, Mr. Ford has left my employment. I am Miss Whitehall, my business is closed."

There was a pause. My heart which had hit up a lively gait began to ease down. Only Tony Ford Ц Pshaw!

"Are you there?" said the woman.

"Yes," came the answer. "Could you give me his address?"

"Certainly. Hold the wire for a moment."

After a wait of a minute or two she was back with the address which she gave him. He repeated it carefully, thanked her and hung up.

Talk of false alarms! I was so disappointed thinking I'd got something for Mr. Whitney, that I sat crumpled up in my chair sulking, and right in the middle of my sulks came the second call.

It was Long Distance again Ц Toronto.

"I wonder what Toronto wants with her," I thought as I jacked in, and then, leaning my elbow on the desk listened, not much interested. Three sentences hadn't passed before I was as still as a graven image, all my life gone into my ears.

"Is that you, Carol?" I could just hear it, a fine little thread of sound as if it came from a ghost in the other world.

"Yes Ц who's speaking?"

"It's I Ц J. W. B."

Barker's initials! My heart gave a leap and then began to fox trot. If I had any doubts, her answer put an end to them. I could hear the gasp in her breath, the fright in her voice.

"You? What are you doing this for?"

"There's no danger. I'm careful. Did you get my letter?"

"Yes, this morning."

"Will you come?"

"Are you sure it's all right? Have you seen the papers here?"

"All of them. Don't be afraid. I'm taking no risks. Are you coming?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"I can leave tonight. There's a train at eight."

"Good. I'll meet you and explain everything. Do as I said in the letter. I'll be there."

"Very well Ц understand. Please ring off. Good-bye."

For a moment I sat thinking. She was going to Toronto to meet Barker by a train that left at eight, and it was now half-past five. There was no use trying to trace the call Ц I knew enough for that Ц so I got Mr. Whitney's office and told him, careful, without names. He was awful pleased and handed me out some compliments that gave me the courage to ask for something I was crazy to get Ц the scoop for Babbitts. It would be a big story Ц Barker landed through the girl he was in love with. I knew they'd follow her and could Babbitts go along? I don't have to tell you that he agreed, making only one condition Ц if they were unsuccessful, silence. O'Mally, who was up from Philadelphia, would go. Babbitts could join him at the Grand Central Station.

I took a call for the Dispatch, found Babbitts and told him enough to send him home on the run Ц but not much; there's too many phones in those newspaper offices. It was nearly seven when I got there myself, dragged him into our room, and while I packed his grip gave him the last bulletins. He was up in the air. It would be the biggest story that had ever come his way.

I had to go down to the station with him, for neither he nor O'Mally knew her. I was desperate afraid she wouldn't come Ц get cold feet the way women do when they're eloping. But at a quarter of eight she showed up. She didn't look a bit nervous or rattled, and went about getting her ticket as quiet as if she was going for a week-end to Long Island. O'Mally Ц he was a fat, red-faced man, looking more like a commercial traveler than a sleuth Ц was right behind her as she bought it. Then as she walked to the track entrance with her suitcase in her hand, I saw them follow her, lounging along sort of neighborly and casual, till the three of them disappeared under the arch.

It was late before I went to sleep that night. I kept imagining them tracking her through the Toronto Depot, leaping into a taxi that followed close on hers, and going somewhere Ц but where I couldn't think Ц to meet Barker. For the first time I began to wonder if any harm could come to Babbitts. In detective stories when they shadowed people there were generally revolvers at the finish. But, after all, Johnston Barker wasn't flying for his life, or flying from jail. As far as I could get it, he was just flying away with the Copper Pool's money. Perhaps that wasn't desperate enough for revolvers.



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