Chapter XXIX. The Precious Papers
 

I was not as much surprised over the situation as were the two men. I could put two and two together as quickly as any one, and I knew exactly where the papers were to be found.

Sammy Simpson, of 28 Hallock Street, was the thief. He had intimated that he had evidence against Chris Holtzmann, and these papers were that evidence.

This being so, there was no further use for my remaining in my cramped position in the closet, and I longed for a chance for escape. It was not long in coming.

"I don't see how that boy managed it," said Holtzmann. "He was alone only a few minutes."

"Never mind. He's as smart as a steel trap. Was the safe door open?"

"Yes. My clerk left it open. He is a new one and rather careless. What's to be done?"

"I'm going after the rascal," cried Aaron Woodward.

"You'd have a fine time finding him here in Chicago."

"I must find him. Most likely when he discovers how valuable the papers are he'll be off at once for home with them. I can intercept him at the depot."

"That's an idea, if you can locate the right depot."

"I'll be off at once," went on Mr. Woodward.

"I'll go with you," returned Chris Holtzmann, and three minutes later the two men quitted the office, locking the door after them.

I waited several minutes to make sure they were not returning, and then emerged from my hiding-place.

I was stiff in every joint and nearly stifled from the hot air in the closet. But at present I gave these personal matters scant attention, my mind being bent upon escape.

Even if the door had been unlocked, I would not have chosen it as a means of egress. It led into the main hall of the Palace of Pleasure, and here I might meet some one to bar my escape.

The window was close at hand, and I threw it open. The noise I made did not frighten me, for in the main hall a loud orchestra was drowning out every other sound.

I looked out and saw a number of people walking up and down the street. No one appeared to be watching me, and waiting a favorable opportunity, I slid out of the window to the sidewalk below.

With my ever present handbag beside me I hurried down the side street as fast as my feet would carry me. The neighborhood of the Palace of Pleasure was dangerous for me, and I wished to get away from it as quickly as possible.

After travelling several blocks I slackened my pace and dropped into a rapid walk. Coming to a fruit-stand, I invested in a couple of bananas, and then asked its proprietor where Hallock Street was.

"Sure an' it's the first street beyant the cable road," was the reply.

"And where is the cable road?" I queried.

"Two squares that way, sor," and the woman pointed it out.

I thanked her and hurried on. When I reached the street, I found the numbers ran in the three hundreds, and I had quite a walk to the southward to reach No. 28.

At length I stood in front of the house. It was a common-looking affair, and the vicinity was not one to be chosen by fastidious people. The street, sidewalks, and doorways all looked dirty and neglected. I concluded that since being discharged Sammy Simpson had come down in the world.

"Does Mr. Simpson live here?" I asked of a slip of a girl who sat on the stoop, nursing a ragged doll.

"Yes, sir; on the third floor in the front," she replied.

I climbed up the creaky stairs two flights, and rapped on the door.

"Come," said a voice, and I entered. The room was the barest kind of a kitchen. By the open window sat a thin, pale woman, holding a child.

"Does Mr. Samuel Simpson live here?" I asked.

"Yes, sir, but he's not in now," she returned. "Can I do anything for you?"

"I guess not."

"I hope-- I hope there is nothing wrong," she went on falteringly.

"Wrong?" I queried. I did not quite understand her.

"Yes, sir."

"Not exactly. What makes you think so?"

"Because he drinks so," she replied.

"I wish to get some information from him; that is all," I returned.

As I concluded a heavy step sounded in the hall, and an instant later Sammy Simpson appeared. He had evidently been imbibing freely, for his voice was thick and his sentences muddled.

"Hello!" he cried. "You here already, eh! What brought you? Want to find out all about Chris Holtzmann?"

"Yes."

"Thought so. Saw it in your eye. Yes, sir, your optic betrayed you. Sit down. Mag, give Mr. What's-his-name a chair. I'll sit down myself." And he sank heavily down on a low bench, threw one leg over the other, and clasped his hands on his knee.

"I want to see those documents you took from Mr. Holtzmann's safe," I began boldly.

He started slightly and stared at me.

"Who said I took any document out of his safe?"

"Didn't you say so? I mean the ones relating to Holtzmann's affairs in Brooklyn."

"Well, yes, I did."

"I want to see them."

"Again I ask, what is there in it?" he exclaimed dramatically.

"If they really prove of value to me, I will pay you well for all your trouble," I replied.

"Is that straight?" he asked thickly.

"It is," I replied, and, I may as well add, I was thoroughly disgusted with the man.

"Then I'm yours truly, and no mistake. Excuse me till I get them."

Be rose unsteadily and left the room. Hardly had he gone before his wife hurried to my side.

"Oh, sir, I hope you are not getting him into trouble?" she cried. "He is a good man when he is sober; indeed he is,"

"I am not going to harm him, madam. A great wrong has been done, and I only want your husband to assist me in righting it. He has papers that can do it."

"You are telling me the truth?" she questioned earnestly.

"Yes, ma'am."

"I think I can trust you," she said slowly. "You look honest. And these papers-- ought you to have them?"

"Yes. If your husband does not give them up, he will certainly get into great trouble."

"You are young, and you don't look as if you would lie. If Sam has the papers, he shall give them to you. He's coming now."

"Here's all the evidence in the case," said Sammy Simpson, on returning. He held a thick and long envelope. "What's the value to you?"

"I can tell better after I have examined them," I returned.

"Will you give them back if I let you see them?"

"Yes."

He handed the precious papers to me and then sat down.

Oh, how eagerly I grasped the envelope! How much of importance it might contain for me!

There were three letters and four legal papers. Like Nicholas Weaver's statement, all were badly written, and I had a hard job to decipher even a portion of the manuscript.

Yet I made out enough to learn that Aaron Woodward was the forger of the notes and checks that had sent my father to prison, and that the death of a relative in Chicago was only a pretence. The work had been done in Brooklyn through that branch of Holland & Mack's establishment. Chris Holtzmann had helped in the scheme, and John Stumpy had presented one of the checks, for which service he had received six hundred dollars. This much was clear to me. But two other points still remained dark.

One was of a certain Ferguson connected with the scheme, who seemed to be intimate with my father. He was probably the man my father had mentioned when we had visited him at the prison. His connection with the affair was far from clear.

The other dark point in the case was concerning Agatha Mitts, of 648 Vannack Avenue, Brooklyn. She was a boarding-mistress, and the three or four men had stopped at her house. But how much she knew of their doings I could not tell.

"Well, what do you think?" muttered Sammy Simpson. "Mighty important, I'll be bound."

"Not so very important," I returned, as coolly as I could. "They will be if I can get hold of other papers to use with them."

"Exactly, sir; just as I always said. Well, you can get them easily enough, no doubt."

"I don't know about that," I said doubtfully.

"No trouble at all. Come, what will you give?"

"Five dollars."

"Ha! ha! They're worth a million." He blinked hard at me. "Say, you're a friend of mine, a good boy. Meg, shall I give them to him?"

"You ought to do what's right, Sam," replied his wife, severely.

"So I ought. You're a good woman; big improvement on a chap like me. Say, young man, give my lady ten dollars, keep the papers, and clear out. I'm drunk, and when Sammy Simpson's drunk he's a fool."

I handed over the money without a word. Perhaps I was taking advantage of the man's present state, but I considered I was doing things for the best.

A minute later, with the precious papers in my pocket, I left.