The White Moll by Frank L. Packard
XX. A Lone Hand
And now Rhoda Gray was in the radius of the arc lamp, and distinctly visible to any one coming down the yard. How near were they? Yes, she saw them now - three forms-perhaps a little more than a hundred yards away. She moved a few steps deliberately toward them, as though quite unconscious of their presence; and then, as a shout from one of them announced that she was seen, she halted, hesitated as though surprised, terrified and uncertain, and, as they sprang forward, she turned and ran - making for the side of the shed away from the side door.
A voice rang out - Danglar's:
"By God, it's the White Moll!"
It was the only way! She had the pack in cry now. They would pay no attention to the Adventurer while the White Moll was seemingly almost within their grasp. If she could only hold them now for a little while - just a little while - the Adventurer wasn't hurt - only cramped and numbed - he would be all right again and able to take care of himself in a little while - and meanwhile the Sparrow would help him to get away.
She was running with all her speed. She heard them behind her - the pound, pound, pound of feet. She had gained the side of the shed. The light from the arc lamp was shut off from her now, and they would only be able to see her, she knew, as a dim, fleeting shadow. Where was that iron casting? Pray God, it was heavy enough; and pray God, it was not too heavy! Yes, here it was! She pretended to stumble - and caught the thing up in her arms. An exultant cry went up from behind her as she appeared to fall - oaths, a chorus of them, as she went on again.
They had not gained on her before; but with the weight in her arms, especially as she was obliged to carry it awkwardly in order to shield it from their view with her body, she could not run so fast now, and they were beginning to close up on her. But she was on the wharf now, and there was not much farther to go, and - and surely she could hold all the lead she needed until she reached the edge.
The light from the arc lamp held her in view again out here on the wharf where she was clear of the shed; but she knew they would not fire at her except as a last resort. They could not afford to sound an alarm that would attract notice to the spot - when they had, or believed they had, both the Adventurer and the White Moll within their grasp now.
She was running now with short, hard, panting gasps. There were still five yards to go-three-one! She looked around her like a hunted animal at bay, as she reached the end of the wharf and stood there poised at the edge. Yes, thank God, they were still far enough behind to give her the few seconds she needed! She cried out loudly as though in despair and terror - and sprang from the edge of the wharf. And as she sprang she dropped the casting; but even as it struck the water with a loud splash, Rhoda Gray, in frantic haste, was crawling in through the little locker-like opening under the decked-over bow of the half scow, half boat into which she had leaped. And quick as a flash, huddled inside, she reached out and drew the heap of what proved to be sailcloth nearer to her to cover the opening-and lay still.
A few seconds passed; then she heard them at the edge of the wharf, and heard Danglar s voice.
"Watch where she comes up! She can't get away!"
A queer, wan smile twisted Rhoda Gray's lips. The casting had served her well; the splash had been loud enough! She listened, straining her ears to catch every sound from above. It was miserably small this hiding place into which she had crawled, scarcely large enough to hold her - she was beginning to be painfully cramped and uncomfortable already.
Another voice, that she recognized as Pinkie Bonn's now, reached her:
"It's damned hard to spot anything out there; the water's blacker'n hell."
Came a savage and impatient oath from Danglar.
"She's got to come up, ain't she - or drown!" he rasped. "Maybe she's swum under the wharf, or maybe she's swum under water far enough out so's we can't see her from here. Anyway, jump into that boat there, and we'll paddle around till we get her."
Rhoda Gray held her breath. The boat rocked violently as, one after another, the men jumped into it. Her right hand was doubled under her, it was hard to reach her pocket and her automatic. She moved a little; they were cursing, splashing with their oars, making too much noise to hear any slight rustle that she might make.
A minute, two, went by. She had her automatic now, and she lay there, grim-lipped, waiting. Even if they found her now, she had her own way out; and by now, beyond any question, the Adventurer and the Sparrow would have reached the street, and, even if they had to hide out there somewhere until the Adventurer had recovered the use of his limbs, they would be safe.
She could not see, of course. Once the boat bumped, and again. They were probably searching around under the wharf. She could not hear what they said, for they were keeping quiet now, talking in whispers - so as not to give her warning of their whereabouts undoubtedly!
The time dragged on. Her cramped position was bringing her excruciating agony now. She could understand how the Adventurer, in far worse case in the brutal position in which they had bound him, had fainted. She was afraid she would faint herself - it was not only the pain, but it was terribly close in the confined space, and her head was swimming.
Occasionally the oars splashed; and then, after an interminable time, the men, as though hopeless of success, and as though caution were no longer of any service, began to talk louder.
The third man was Shluker. She recognized his voice, too.
"It's no use!" he snarled. "If she's a good swimmer, she could get across the river easy. She's got away; that's sure. What the hell's the good of this? We're playing the fool. Beat it back! She was nosing around the shed. How do we know she didn't let the Pug loose before we saw her?"
Pinkie Bonn whined:
"If he's gone too, we're crimped! The whole works is bust up! The Pug knows everything, where our money is, an' everything. They'll have us cold!"
"Close your face, Pinkie!" It was Danglar speaking, his voice hoarse with uncontrollable rage. "Go on back, then, Shluker. Quick!"
Rhoda Gray heard the hurried splashing of the oars now; and presently she felt the bumping of the boat against the wharf, and its violent rocking as the men climbed out of it again. But she did not move - save with her hand to push the folds of sailcloth a cautious inch or two away from the opening. It did not ease the agony she was suffering from her cramped position, but it gave her fresher air, and she could hear better - the ring of their boot-heels on the wharf above, for instance.
The footsteps died away. There was silence then for a moment; and then, faintly, from the direction of the shed, there came a chorus of baffled rage and execration. She smiled a little wearily to herself. It was all right. That was what she wanted to know. The Adventurer had got away.
Still she lay there. She dared not leave the boat yet; but she could change her position now. She crawled half out from under the docking, and lay with her head on the sailcloth. It was exquisite relief! They could not come back along the wharf without her hearing them, and she could retreat under the decking again in an instant, if necessary.
Voices reached her now occasionally from the direction of the shed. Finally a silence fell. The minutes passed - ten - fifteen - twenty of them. And then Rhoda Gray climbed warily to the wharf, made her way warily past the shed, and gained the road - and three-quarters of an hour later, in another shed, in the lane behind the garret, she was changing quickly into the rags of Gypsy Nan again.
It was almost the end now. To-night, she would keep the appointment Danglar had given her - and keep it ahead of time. It was almost the end. Her lips set tightly. The Adventurer had been warned. There was nothing now to stand in the way of her going to the police, save only the substantiation of that one point in her own story which Danglar must supply.
Her transformation completed, she reached in under the flooring and took out the package of jewels - they would help very materially when she faced Danglar! - and, though it was somewhat large, tucked it inside her blouse. It could not be noticed. The black, greasy shawl hid it effectively.
She stepped out into the lane, and from there to the street, and began to make her way across town. She did not have to search for Danglar to-night. She was to meet him at Matty's at midnight, and it was not more than halfpast eleven now. Three hours and a half! Was that all since at eight o'clock, as nearly as she could place it, he had left her in the lane? It seemed as many years; but it was only twenty minutes after eleven, she had noticed, when she had left the subway on her return a few minutes ago. Her hand clenched suddenly. She was to meet him at Matty's - and, thereafter, if it took all night, she would not leave him until she had got him alone somewhere and disclosed herself. The man was a coward in soul. She could trust to the effect upon him of an automatic in the hands of the White Mall to make him talk.
Rhoda Gray walked quickly. It was not very far. She turned the corner into the street where Danglar's deformed brother, Matty, cloaked the executive activities of the gang with his cheap little notion store - and halted abruptly. The store was just ahead of her, and Danglar himself, coming out, had just closed the door.
He saw her, and stepping instantly to her side, grasped her arm roughly and wheeled her about.
"Come on!" he said - and a vicious oath broke from his lips.
The man was in a towering, ungovernable passion. She cast a furtive glance at his face. She had seen him before in anger; but now, with his lips drawn back and working, his whole face contorted, he seemed utterly beside himself.
"What's the matter?" she inquired innocently. "Wouldn't the Pug talk, or is it a case of 'another hour or so,' and -"
He swung on her furiously.
"Hold your cursed tongue!" he flared. "You'll snicker on the wrong side of your face this time!" He gulped, stared at her threateningly, and quickened his step, forcing her to keep pace with him. But he spoke again after a minute, savagely, bitterly, but more in control of himself. "The Pug got away. The White Moll queered us again. But it's worse than that. The game's up! I told you to be here at midnight. It's only half past eleven yet. I figured you would still be over in the garret, and I was going there for you. That's where we're going now. There's no chance at those rajah's jewels now; there's no chance of fixing Cloran so's you can swell it around in the open again - the only chance we've got is to save what we can and beat it!"
She did not need to simulate either excitement or disquiet.
"What is it? What's happened?" she asked tensely.
"The gang's thrown us down!" he said between his teeth. "They're scared; they've got cold feet - they're going to quit. Shluker and Pinkie were with me at the iron plant. We went back to Matty's from there. Matty's with them, too. They say the Pug knows every one of us, and every game we've pulled, and that in revenge for our trying to murder him he'll wise up the police - that he could do it easily enough without getting nipped himself, by sending them a letter, or even telephoning the names and addresses of the whole layout. They're scared - he curs! They say he knows where all our coin is too; and they're for splitting it up to-night, and ducking it out of New York for a while to get under cover." He laughed out suddenly, raucously. "They will - eh? I'll show them - the yellow-streaked pups! They wouldn't listen to me - and it meant that you and I were thrown down for fair. If we're caught, it's the chair. I'll show them! When I saw it wasn't any use trying to get them to stick, I pretended to agree with them. See? I said they could go around and dig up the rest of the gang, and if the others felt the same way about it, they were all to come over to the garret, and I'd be waiting for them, - and we'd split up the swag, and everybody'd be on his own after that." Again he laughed out raucously. "It'll take them half an hour to get together - but it won't take that long for us to grab all that's worth grabbing out of that trap-door, and making our getaway. See? I'll teach them to throw Pierre Danglar down! Come on, hurry!"
"Sure!" she mumbled mechanically.
Her mind was sifting, sorting, weighing what he had said. She was not surprised. She remembered Pinkie Bonn's outburst in the boat. She walked on beside Danglar. The man was muttering and cursing under his breath. Well, why shouldn't she appear to fall in with his plans? Under what choicer surroundings could she get him alone than in the garret? And half an hour would be ample time for her, too! Yes, yes, she began to see! With Danglar, when she had got what she wanted out of him herself, held up at the point of her automatic, she could back to the door and lock him in there - and notify the police - and the police would not only get Danglar and the ill-gotten hoard hidden in the ceiling behind that trap-door, but they would get all the rest of the gang as the latter in due course appeared on the scene. Yes, why not? She experienced an exhilaration creeping upon her; she even increased, unconsciously, the rapid pace which Danglar had set.
"That's the stuff!" he grunted in savage approval. "We need every minute we've got."
They reached the house where once - so long ago now, it seemed! - Rhoda Gray had first found the original Gypsy Nan; and, Danglar leading, mounted the dark, narrow stairway to the hall above, and from there up the short, ladder-like steps to the garret. He groped in the aperture under the partition for the key, opened the door, and stepped inside. Rhoda Gray, following, removed the key, inserted it on the inside of the door, and, as she too entered, locked the door behind her. It was pitch-black here in the attic. Her face was set now, her lips firm. She had been waiting for this, hadn't she? It was near the end at last. She had Danglar - alone. But not in the darkness! He was too tricky! She crossed the garret to where the candle-stub, stuck in the neck of the gin bottle, stood on the rickety washstand.
"Come over here and light the candle," she said. "I can't find my matches."
Her hand was in the pocket of her skirt now, her fingers tight-closed on the stock of her automatic, as he shuffled his way across the attic to her side. A match spurted into flame; the candle wick flickered, then steadied, dispersing little by little, as it grew brighter, the nearer shadows - and there came a startled cry from Danglar - and Rhoda Gray, the weapon in her pocket forgotten, was staring as though stricken of her senses across the garret. The Adventurer was sitting on the edge of the cot, and a revolver in his hand held a steady bead upon Danglar and herself..