The War Terror by Arthur B. Reeve
Chapter XXVI. The Binet Test
We rode downtown again and again sauntered in, this time with the theater crowd. Our first visit had been so quiet and unostentatious that the second attracted no attention or comment from the waiters, or anyone else.
As we sat down we glanced over, and there in his corner still was Whitecap. Apparently his supply of the dope was inexhaustible, for he was still dispensing it. As we watched the tenderloin habitues come and go, I came soon to recognize the signs by the mere look on the face--the pasty skin, the vacant eye, the nervous quiver of the muscles as though every organ and every nerve were crying out for more of the favorite nepenthe. Time and again I noticed the victims as they sat at the tables, growing more and more haggard and worn, until they could stand it no longer. Then they would retire, sometimes after a visit across the floor to Whitecap, more often directly, for they had stocked themselves up with the drug evidently after the first visit to him. But always they would come back, changed in appearance, with what seemed to be a new lease of life, but nevertheless still as recognizable as drug victims.
It was not long, as we waited, before another woman, older than Miss Sawtelle, but dressed in an extreme fashion, hurried into the cabaret and with scarcely a look to right or left went directly to Whitecap's corner. I noticed that she, too, had the look.
There was a surreptitious passing of a bottle in exchange for a treasury note, and she dropped into the seat beside him.
Before he could interfere, she had opened the bottle, crushed a tablet or two in a napkin, and was holding it to her face as though breathing the most exquisite perfume. With one quick inspiration of her breath after another, she was snuffing the powder up her nose.
Whitecap with an angry gesture pulled the napkin from her face, and one could fancy his snarl under his breath, "Say--do you want to get me in wrong here?"
But it was too late. Some at least of the happy dust had taken effect, at least enough to relieve the terrible pangs she must have been suffering.
As she rose and retired, with a hasty apology to Whitecap for her indiscretion, Kennedy turned to me and exclaimed, "Think of it. The deadliest of all habits is the simplest. No hypodermic; no pipe; no paraphernalia of any kind. It's terrible."
She returned to sit down and enjoy herself, careful not to obtrude herself on Whitecap lest he might become angry at the mere sight of her and treasure his anger up against the next time when she would need the drug.
Already there was the most marvelous change in her. She seemed captivated by the music, the dancing, the life which a few moments before she had totally disregarded.
She was seated alone, not far from us, and as she glanced about Kennedy caught her eye. She allowed her gaze to rest on us for a moment, the signal for a mild flirtation which ended in our exchange of tables and we found ourselves opposite the drug fiend, who was following up the taking of the dope by a thin-stemmed glass of a liqueur.
I do not recall the conversation, but it was one of those inconsequential talks that Bohemians consider so brilliant and everybody else so vapid. As we skimmed from one subject to another, treating the big facts of life as if they were mere incidents and the little as if they overshadowed all else, I could see that Craig, who had a faculty of probing into the very soul of anyone, when he chose, was gradually leading around to a subject which I knew he wanted, above all others, to discuss.
It was not long before, as the most natural remark in the world following something he had made her say, just as a clever prestidigitator forces a card, he asked, "What was it I saw you snuffing over in the booth--happy dust?"
She did not even take the trouble to deny it, but nodded a brazen "Yes." "How did you come to use it first?" he asked, careful not to give offense in either tone or manner.
"The usual way, I suppose," she replied with a laugh that sounded harsh and grating. "I was ill and I found out what it was the doctor was giving me."
"Oh, I thought I would use it only as long as it served my purpose and, when that was over, give it up."
"But--?" prompted Craig hypnotically.
"Instead, I was soon using six, eight, ten tablets of heroin a day. I found that I needed that amount in order to live. Then it went up by leaps to twenty, thirty, forty."
"Suppose you couldn't get it, what then?"
"Couldn't get it?" she repeated with an unspeakable horror. "Once I thought I'd try to stop. But my heart skipped beats; then it seemed to pound away, as if trying to break through my ribs. I don't think heroin is like other drugs. When one has her 'coke'-- that's cocaine--taken away, she feels like a rag. Fill her up and she can do anything again. But, heroin--I think one might murder to get it!"
The expression on the woman's face was almost tragic. I verily believe that she meant it.
"Why," she cried, "if anyone had told me a year ago that the time would ever come when I would value some tiny white tablets above anything else in the world, yes, and even above my immortal soul, I would have thought him a lunatic."
It was getting late, and as the woman showed no disposition to leave, Kennedy and I excused ourselves.
Outside Craig looked at me keenly. "Can you guess who that was?"
"Although she didn't tell us her name," I replied, "I am morally certain that it was Mrs. Garrett."
"Precisely," he answered, "and what a shame, too, for she must evidently once have been a woman of great education and refinement."
He shook his head sadly. "Walter, there isn't likely to be anything that we can do for some hours now. I have a little experiment I'd like to make. Suppose you publish for me a story in the Star about the campaign against drugs. Tell about what we have seen to-night, mention the cabaret by indirection and Whitecap directly. Then we can sit back and see what happens. We've got to throw a scare into them somehow, if we are going to smoke out anyone higher up than Whitecap. But you'll have to be careful, for if they suspect us our usefulness in the case will be over."
Together, Kennedy and I worked over our story far into the night down at the Star office, and the following day waited to see whether anything came of it.
It was with a great deal of interest tempered by fear that we dropped into the cabaret the following evening. Fortunately no one suspected us. In fact, having been there the night before, we had established ourselves, as it were, and were welcomed as old patrons and good spenders.
I noticed, however, that Whitecap was not there. The story had been read by such of the dope fiends as had not fallen too far to keep abreast of the times and these and the waiters were busy quietly warning off a line of haggard-eyed, disappointed patrons who came around, as usual.
Some of them were so obviously dependent on Whitecap that I almost regretted having written the story, for they must have been suffering the tortures of the damned.
It was in the midst of a reverie of this sort that a low exclamation from Kennedy recalled my attention. There was Snowbird with a man considerably older than herself. They had just come in and were looking about frantically for Whitecap. But Whitecap had been too frightened by the story in the Star to sell any more of the magic happy dust openly in the cabaret, at least.
The pair, nerve-racked and exhausted, sat down mournfully in a seat near us, and as they talked earnestly in low tones we had an excellent opportunity for studying Armstrong for the first time.
He was not a bad-looking man, or even a weak one. In back of the dissipation of the drugs one fancied he could read the story of a brilliant life wrecked. But there was little left to admire or respect. As the couple talked earnestly, the one so old, the other so young in vice, I had to keep a tight rein on myself to prevent my sympathy for the wretched girl getting the better of common sense and kicking the older man out of doors.
Finally Armstrong rose to go, with a final imploring glance from the girl. Obviously she had persuaded him to forage about to secure the heroin, by hook or crook, now that the accustomed source of supply was cut off so suddenly.
It was also really our first chance to study the girl carefully under the light, for her entrance and exit the night before had been so hurried that we had seen comparatively little of her. Craig was watching her narrowly. Not only were the effects of the drug plainly evident on her face, but it was apparent that the snuffing the powdered tablets was destroying the bones in her nose, through shrinkage of the blood vessels, as well as undermining the nervous system and causing the brain to totter.
I was wondering whether Armstrong knew of any depot for the secret distribution of the drug. I could not believe that Whitecap was either the chief distributer or the financial head of the illegal traffic. I wondered who indeed was the man higher up. Was he an importer of the drug, or was he the representative of some chemical company not averse to making an illegal dollar now and then by dragging down his fellow man?
Kennedy and I were trying to act as if we were enjoying the cabaret show and not too much interested in the little drama that was being acted before us. I think little Miss Sawtelle noticed, however, that we were looking often her way. I was amazed, too, on studying her more closely to find that there was something indefinably queer about her, aside from the marked effect of the drugs she had been taking. What it was I was at a loss to determine, but I felt sure from the expression on Kennedy's face that he had noticed it also.
I was on the point of asking him if he, too, observed anything queer in the girl, when Armstrong hurried in and handed her a small package, then almost without a word stalked out again, evidently as much to Snowbird's surprise as to our own.
She had literally seized the package, as though she were drowning and grasping at a life buoy. Even the surprise at his hasty departure could not prevent her, however, from literally tearing the wrapper off, and in the sheltering shadow of the table cloth pouring forth the little white pellets in her lap, counting them as a miser counts his gold,
"The old thief!" she exclaimed aloud. "He's held out twenty-five!"
I don't know which it was that amazed me most, the almost childish petulance and ungovernable temper of the girl which made her cry out in spite of her surroundings and the circumstances, or the petty rapacity of the man who could stoop to such a low level as to rob her in this seeming underhand manner.
There was no time for useless repining now. The call of outraged nature for its daily and hourly quota of poison was too imperative. She dumped the pellets back into the bottle hastily, and disappeared.
When she came back, it was with that expression I had come to know so well. At least for a few hours there was a respite for her from the terrific pangs she had been suffering. She was almost happy, smiling. Even that false happiness, I felt, was superior to Armstrong's moral sense blunted by drugs. I had begun to realize how lying, stealing, crimes of all sorts might be laid at the door of this great evil.
In her haste to get where she could snuff the heroin she had forgotten a light wrap lying on her chair. As she returned for it, it fell to the floor. Instantly Kennedy was on his feet, bending over to pick it up.
She thanked him, and the smile lingered a moment on her face. It was enough. It gave Kennedy the chance to pursue a conversation, and in the free and easy atmosphere of the cabaret to invite her to sit over at our table.
At least all her nervousness was gone and she chatted vivaciously. Kennedy said little. He was too busy watching her. It was quite the opposite of the case of Mrs. Garrett. Yet I was at a loss to define what it was that I sensed.
Still the minutes sped past and we seemed to be getting on famously. Unlike his action in the case of the older woman where he had been sounding the depths of her heart and mind, in this case his idea seemed to be to allow the childish prattle to come out and perhaps explain itself.
However, at the end of half an hour when we seemed to be getting no further along, Kennedy did not protest at her desire to leave us, "to keep a date," as she expressed it.
"Waiter, the check, please," ordered Kennedy leisurely.
When he received it, he seemed to be in no great hurry to pay it, but went over one item after another, then added up the footing again.
"Strange how some of these waiters grow rich?" Craig remarked finally with a gay smile.
The idea of waiters and money quickly brought some petty reminiscences to her mind. While she was still talking, Craig casually pulled a pencil out of his pocket and scribbled some figures on the back of the waiter's check.
From where I was sitting beside him, I could see that he had written some figures similar to the following:
5183 47395 654726 2964375 47293815 924738651 2146073859
"Here's a stunt," he remarked, breaking into the conversation at a convenient point. "Can you repeat these numbers after me?"
Without waiting for her to make excuse, he said quickly "5183." "5183," she repeated mechanically.
"47395," came in rapid succession, to which she replied, perhaps a little slower than before,
"Now, 654726," he said.
"654726," she repeated, I thought with some hesitation.
"Again, 2964375," he shot out.
"269," she hesitated, "73--" she stopped.
It was evident that she had reached the limit.
Kennedy smiled, paid the check and we parted at the door.
"What was all that rigmarole?" I inquired as the white figure disappeared down the street.
"Part of the Binet test, seeing how many digits one can remember. An adult ought to remember from eight to ten, in any order. But she has the mentality of a child. That is the queer thing about her. Chronologically she may be eighteen years or so old. Mentally she is scarcely more than eight. Mrs. Sutphen was right. They have made a fiend out of a mere child--a defective who never had a chance against them."