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The Auction Block, a novel by Rex Beach

Chapter 27

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Adventures of moment had also fallen to the lot of Jimmy Knight on this day. Lacking the hospitality of Tony's back room, Jim had of late taken up loafing-quarters in a Seventh Avenue saloon, frequented by a coterie of parasitic young men who subsisted on the crowds which passed daily in and out of the Pennsylvania Station. On the very afternoon of the Melcher raid Jim was sitting at a table with one of these fellows, lending a willing ear to tales of easy money, when he felt a touch upon his shoulder and, looking up, found a plain-clothes man standing over him. The stranger wore no visible badge of authority, but Jim knew him instantly for what he was. In the background another person with the same indefinable stamp of the bull watched proceedings with an expressionless face.

Now Jim had the heart of a rabbit, and, being forever busy in "framing" some one, his first suspicion was that he himself was being framed. This suspicion proved all too correct. Never in his worst dreams had he experienced anything so distressing as what followed his arrest, for it seemed as if these officers cherished a personal grudge against him. They seemed prejudiced for no reason whatever, and they made their aversion patent in several professionally effective ways. Jim found his arms twisted backward and upward until his bones cracked and his joints came loose; with wrists pinioned behind his shoulder-blades and walking on his toes he was propelled into the street. Since this was his first arrest, he did not know enough to go quietly, and when one of his captors released his grip he tried to wrench himself loose. Cossacks could not mistreat a prisoner more brutally than these policemen mistreated poor, cringing, spineless Jimmy Knight. He reached the station-house more dead than alive, and then when he saw a loaded revolver removed from his own pocket he utterly collapsed. Weeping like a woman, he was led to a cell and left to meditate upon the inconsistencies and injustices of the Sullivan law.

As the hours crept by and his efforts to obtain assistance proved unavailing he began to understand something of Young Sullivan's and Armistead's feelings. Then light came to him; he learned of the disaster to the Metropolitan Club and immediately lost faith in Melcher's ability to help him, with the result that when he was finally led to Inspector Snell's office for the third degree he "squealed" promptly. In his panic to save himself he volunteered even more of his private history than the Inspector desired to hear, and was only too willing to make known all of the facts of the Hammon case. Nor did he withhold the truth about the present attempt at blackmailing Bob Wharton and Merkle; the first question along this line served to unlock his lips, and he whiningly laid bare the entire conspiracy. It seemed, however, that his earnest desire to help the law was scarcely appreciated, for even after he had blindly affixed his signature to the documents which Inspector Snell placed before him he was led back to his cell.

Rules were far from strict at Lilas Lynn's hotel. The employees were not over-courteous at any time, and, although in theory callers announced themselves by telephone before going up-stairs, this was a custom generally honored in the breach. No question, therefore, was raised when a heavily built, capable-looking man, with large hands and feet, inquired for Miss Lynn's room-number and stepped into the elevator without declaring his business.

Lilas herself opened the door at his knock, but showed some reluctance at admitting him until he murmured the magic word "Headquarters," whereupon she fell back with a look of startled inquiry in her eyes. The stranger did not trouble to remove his hat; after a swift inventory of the room he announced:

"The Inspector sent me to see you."

"What Inspector?"


"Yes?" Lilas's voice was badly controlled, for there was something disturbing about this man's behavior.

"Your orders is to leave town. Be out and away at eight o'clock; that's four hours. Understand?"

"You must be crazy," Lilas cried, with a show of spirit. "What have I done? Who do you think I am? Inspector Snell, eh? I don't know him, and he doesn't know me."

"I guess he knows you, all right. Eight bells, sister. I'll be back then."

"But--what for? I haven't done anything." Incensed at the fellow's total indifference, she ran on, fiercely: "I won't go. I'm no crook. You can't hustle me out like this. I'll fight. I've got friends and I've got money, and I'm going to stay right here. You haven't anything on me, for I haven't done anything. I'm behaving myself, and I'm clean. You can tell Inspector Snell so for me."

The policeman silently drew from his pocket an envelope, which he handed to her.

"Before you talk any louder suppose you give this the once over," he said.

Lilas glanced at the proffered package with a sneer.

"Bah! Don't you think I know a warrant?" Then, as she opened the envelope and scanned its contents, she started. To conceal the tremor of her hand she spread the documents upon her center-table and turned her back to the visitor. An odd rigidity crept over her. When she swung about to speak her voice was harsh, but her defiance had lessened.

"I don't understand--"

"Oh! I guess you do. Anyhow, the whole story's there. You see, Armistead spilled--that's why he jumped his bond; he was afraid of Melcher's gunmen. We got Sullivan, too. He was tough, but we got him finally; and as for Knight! Say, that little grafter sprained his wrist signing affidavits."

"Rot! You don't expect me to believe all this?" Lilas demanded, uncertainly. "Why, these confessions are probably phony. You dictated them yourself, for all I know. Anyhow, they don't mean anything to me."

"Well, you'd ought to know whether they do or not." The policeman calmly refolded the papers.

"What about Max? What does he say about this?"

"Oh, he takes it all right. He knows we've got it on him, and he knows when to lay down a hand. Max is a good sport. But I ain't here to swap gossip. If I was you I'd take it on the run; you can't win anything by sticking."

"I won't go," stormed the girl. "It's a put-up job to get me away."

"Have it your own way, but I'll be back at eight with a regular honest-to-goodness warrant." The officer nodded and walked out heavily.

When she was alone again Lilas felt as if her knees would give way. For the first time she realized that she had no single friend to whom she could turn or in whose assistance she could put faith. Before the plain-clothes man she had maintained a pretense of firmness, but it had been mere bravado, for in her soul she had known those documents to be authentic. Their contents proved them so, and, now that the police knew all, resistance was plainly futile.

During her last talk with Bob Wharton Lilas had felt unbounded confidence in her ability to go through with her plans, come what might, but now the mere knowledge that those plans were known changed everything. In common with all evil-doers, Lilas entertained an exaggerated distrust of the law and a keen fear of its trickeries. The fact that she had been betrayed, the fact that she now had the open hostility of the police to combat, convinced her that the game was up.

As she pondered the situation anger at the treachery of her confederates grew and caused her to forget her own intended treachery to them. Even while she was defying the officer she had begun to reconcile herself to the idea of flight, and now she set about her preparations.

Four hours! Well, they had given her time enough. Much could be done in four hours. Eight o'clock would see her well out from under the shadow of the law. The Law! Lilas sneered as she reflected that the law invariably shielded the rich and prosperous while it oppressed the poor and the needy.

Of late her periods of independence from cocaine were becoming shorter and of less frequent occurrence, and before she had proceeded far with her packing she found herself badly in need of stimulation. Her resistance was running low, it seemed. That splendid recklessness which had sustained her when she flung her demand at Bob was entirely gone now; she was oddly nervous and unstrung, so she turned to the white powders.

Their effect was prompt and pleasant, as always; they enabled her to lay vigorous hold once more upon her scattered faculties. As she flung her belongings into her trunk her first black regrets and disappointments began to lighten, and she found herself looking at the matter more philosophically. After all, things were never quite hopeless; she had played for big stakes and lost-- through no fault of her own, but through the treachery of others. Well, this was not her first defeat, and certainly it would not be her last opportunity. She would pretend to yield; she would go away and wait. Yes, that was best. She could always return, and so long as her money lasted, so long as those blessed powders were available, she was assured of bodily and mental comfort at least. Meanwhile no one could rob her of her secret, and sometime, somehow it could be coined into money. Bob Wharton, John Merkle, the Hammon women, through their influence with the police, might exile her from New York, might hound her from place to place, but so long as she retained that secret they were all more or less in her power and could not deny her at least a comfortable living. She even smiled contemptuously as she looked back upon the way she had fooled Bob Wharton and the concern he had shown for Lorelei.

Then of a sudden Lilas awoke to the fact that she disliked--hated --Bob's wife. It seemed as if she had always hated her. Perhaps it was because of Lorelei's beauty or her superior ways, or--yes, because of her clean soul that nothing had been able to smirch. Character--what was it but hypocrisy, or a luxury upon which some people prided themselves? From Lorelei, Lilas's thoughts wandered naturally to Jim, thence to his companions, and finally to Max Melcher. One and all, those men, at the first hint of danger to themselves, had thrown her over and sought protection. That was man-like. It pleased her at this moment to call down punishments upon them and to imagine the forms those punishments would take if she possessed the power to inflict them. She owed those fellows something, and in particular she owed Max a grudge, for the whole scheme had been his.

The cocaine was working swiftly now; Lilas had reached the stage of exaggerated self-regard; her enmity toward Melcher grew with unnatural rapidity. She had evened more than one score in the past, she mused, why not even this one? In Jarvis Hammon's case, for instance, she had taken the law into her own hands and had exacted payment for a wrong that most people would have considered dead to vengeance. Truly, that had been a revenge! For a long time the memory of that night's events had been almost intolerable: the picture of that dim-lit library, of the staring, stricken face of her victim had more than once filled Lilas with such horror that she had taken refuge in double doses of cocaine; but now, strangely enough, she felt no repugnance whatever in looking back upon it. On the contrary, she was thrilled by the remembrance and exulted in her act without restraint. She fancied at this moment that she could feel the cold contact of the revolver against her palm, the leap of the exploding weapon, the fierce triumph that had flamed through her when Hammon had halted in his tracks, then withered and crumpled as his wound took effect. That had been an instant worth all the pain and risk it cost! She lived again through the white heat of it, but it left her unsatisfied.

There were others who had wronged her and who deserved the same fate as Hammon--Max Melcher, for instance. Max had been her evil counselor in all things, he had always used her as a tool, and now, like a tool which he no longer had use for, he cast her aside.

Lilas found herself pacing the floor in a peculiar emotional frenzy. Outwardly she was cool, inwardly she was a prey to the wildest and wickedest passions.

It is by the use of cocaine that most of the hired assassins of the East Side prepare themselves to kill. Taken in sufficient quantities, the drug tends to produce a homicidal mania in the consumer, at the same time leaving him in supersensitive control of his faculties. Mind and body are unnaturally stimulated by it. Whisky numbs a man's mind and makes his hands unsteady; cocaine not only crazes him, but lends him accuracy in shooting. Moreover, it deadens his sensibility, so that he goes on fighting even though riddled with wounds. Thus the use of this drug explains why the modern gunman is so deadly in his work and at the same time so difficult of capture, as it does the similar phenomena among the Southern negroes who, since they have been denied rum by state prohibition, have taken to cocaine.

Just how or when Lilas arrived at the determination to kill Max Melcher she did not know. The idea was there, full-grown and firmly fixed in her mind, when she discovered it. She began at once to shape its execution.

First she called Tony the Barber by 'phone, for now that the Metropolitan Club was closed she knew of no other way of discovering her victim's whereabouts. Max was not at the barber shop, she learned, but he would be there promptly at half past six o'clock for his shave. Yes, Tony declared, he always came there at that time; it was a habit of years' standing.

Lilas ordered her trunks sent down, paid her bill at the hotel, and then sought the nearest pawn shop. She had some difficulty in buying a revolver, but, succeeding at length, she returned to her room to arrange the final details of her plan.

That she had fixed upon Melcher rather than upon Bob or Merkle or some one else, can be explained only through the vagaries of a disordered mind, for, although the girl did not realize it, she was by this time quite out of her head. A desire as keen and as compelling as hunger clamored for Max's death, and it did not occur to her to resist it. Yet Lilas had no intention of sacrificing herself; much of the pleasure of the deed, she reflected, would result from a successful "get away," and therefore she craftily arranged her escape. She would drive to Tony's, so ran her plan, tell her taxi-cab driver to wait, then enter the place quietly and swiftly. Max would be stretched out in one of the chairs and quite unaware of her approach until she bent over him; he would gain no hint of her design until he felt her weapon against his body. Such a simple mode of procedure could not fail, and--this ferocious longing to kill would be satisfied. In the confusion following the shot, Lilas reasoned, it would be easy to slip out of the place, step into her taxi and drive to the station. Once she was lost in that crowded place who could apprehend her? In half an hour she would be out of the state.

There still remained some time to wait and, to guard herself against a diminution of the drug's effect, she took another liberal dose. After a time this resulted in an added intensity of concentration, an even greater mental activity and strength of purpose. She felt equal to anything, afraid of nothing in heaven or earth.

For fear that Max might anticipate his regular time of arrival she again telephoned to Tony, but, learning that he had not done so, she gossiped briefly with the barber, discussing the raid on the Metropolitan, the misfortunes that had overtaken their mutual friends, and other topics of interest. She realized from Tony's laughter that she was talking with unusual wit and brilliance.

Her buoyancy was becoming a trifle oppressive now, so she rang off, and a few moments later discovered that her last inhalation of the drug was beginning to affect her heart. Before long its palpitation had become unpleasant, though not alarming as yet and probably no more than a passing phase. However, since ample time remained, she decided to lie down. The reclining position gave her some relief, but that odd, nightmarish over-stimulation continued; in fact, it increased until it became almost unbearable. She closed her eyes only to behold a whirling confusion of shapes and visions. Gradually her mind became peopled by distorted fancies. The moments crept on and the phantasmagoria continued... Lilas realized at last that she was ill. She was confused, hysterical, wretched. She tried to rise, but failed... She found herself swimming through space; blinding lights and choking vapors enveloped her. She noted with a dull sense of alarm that her heart was skipping; this frightened her into calling for help, but her voice sounded weak and unreal... Everything was unreal; objects in the room were distorted and queer... What was it that so terrified her? ... Was it death? _

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