The Yellow Claw by Sax Rohmer
XXXV. Tracker Tracked
Helen Cumberly and Denise Ryland peered from the window of the former's room into the dusk of the Square, until their eyes ached with the strain of an exercise so unnatural.
"I tell you," said Denise with emphasis, "that . . . sooner or later . . . he will come prowling . . . around. The mere fact that he did not appear . . . last night . . . counts for nothing. His own crooked . . . plans no doubt detain him . . . very often . . . at night."
Helen sighed wearily. Denise Ryland's scheme was extremely distasteful to her, but whenever she thought of the pathetic eyes of Leroux she found new determination. Several times she had essayed to analyze the motives which actuated her; always she feared to pursue such inquiries beyond a certain point. Now that she was beginning to share her friend's views upon the matter, all social plans sank into insignificance, and she lived only in the hope of again meeting Gianapolis, of tracing out the opium group, and of finding Mrs. Leroux. In what state did she hope and expect to find her? This was a double question which kept her wakeful through the dreary watches of the night. . . .
Denise Ryland grasped her by the arm, pointing out into the darkened Square. A furtive figure crossed from the northeast corner into the shade of some trees and might be vaguely detected coming nearer and nearer.
"There he is!" whispered Denise Ryland, excitedly; "I told you he couldn't . . . keep away. I know that kind of brute. There is nobody at home, so listen: I will watch . . . from the drawing- room, and you . . . light up here and move about . . . as if preparing to go out."
Helen, aware that she was flushed with excitement, fell in with the proposal readily; and having switched on the lights in her room and put on her hat so that her moving shadow was thrown upon the casement curtain, she turned out the light again and ran to rejoin her friend. She found the latter peering eagerly from the window of the drawing-room.
"He thinks you are coming out!" gasped Denise. "He has slipped . . . around the corner. He will pretend to be . . . passing . . . this way . . . the cross-eyed . . . hypocrite. Do you feel capable . . . of the task?"
"Quite," Helen declared, her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkling. "You will follow us as arranged; for heaven's sake, don't lose us!"
"If the doctor knew of this," breathed Denise, "he would never . . . forgive me. But no woman . . . no true woman . . . could refuse to undertake . . . so palpable . . . a duty" . . .
Helen Cumberly, wearing a warm, golfing jersey over her dress, with a woolen cap to match, ran lightly down the stairs and out into the Square, carrying a letter. She walked along to the pillar-box, and having examined the address upon the envelope with great care, by the light of an adjacent lamp, posted the letter, turned--and there, radiant and bowing, stood Mr. Gianapolis!
"Kismet is really most kind to me!" he cried. "My friend, who lives, as I think I mentioned once before, in Peer's Chambers, evidently radiates good luck. I last had the good fortune to meet you when on my way to see him, and I now meet you again within five minutes of leaving him! My dear Miss Cumberly, I trust you are quite well?"
"Quite," said Helen, holding out her hand. "I am awfully glad to see you again, Mr. Gianapolis!"
He was distinctly encouraged by her tone. He bent forward confidentially.
"The night is young," he said; and his smile was radiant. "May I hope that your expedition does not terminate at this post-box?"
Helen glanced at him doubtfully, and then down at her jersey. Gianapolis was unfeignedly delighted with her naivete.
"Surely you don't want to be seen with me in this extraordinary costume!" she challenged.
"My dear Miss Cumberly, it is simply enchanting! A girl with such a figure as yours never looks better than when she dresses sportily!"
The latent vulgarity of the man was escaping from the bondage in which ordinarily he confined it. A real passion had him in its grip, and the real Gianapolis was speaking. Helen hesitated for one fateful moment; it was going to be even worse than she had anticipated. She glanced up at Palace Mansions.
Across a curtained window moved a shadow, that of a man wearing a long gown and having his hands clasped behind him, whose head showed as an indistinct blur because the hair was wildly disordered. This shadow passed from side to side of the window and was lost from view. It was the shadow of Henry Leroux.
"I am afraid I have a lot of work to do," said Helen, with a little catch in her voice.
"My dear Miss Cumberly," cried Gianapolis, eagerly, placing his hand upon her arm, "it is precisely of your work that I wish to speak to you! Your work is familiar to me--I never miss a line of it; and knowing how you delight in the outre and how inimitably you can describe scenes of Bohemian life, I had hoped, since it was my privilege to meet you, that you would accept my services as cicerone to some of the lesser-known resorts of Bohemian London. Your article, 'Dinner in Soho,' was a delightful piece of observation, and the third--I think it was the third--of the same series: 'Curiosities of the Cafe Royal,' was equally good. But your powers of observation would be given greater play in any one of the three establishments to which I should be honored to escort you."
Helen Cumberly, though perfectly self-reliant, as only the modern girl journalist can be, was fully aware that, not being of the flat-haired, bespectacled type, she was called upon to exercise rather more care in her selection of companions for copy-hunting expeditions than was necessary in the case of certain fellow- members of the Scribes' Club. No power on earth could have induced her to accept such an invitation from such a man, under ordinary circumstances; even now, with so definite and important an object in view, she hesitated. The scheme might lead to nothing; Denise Ryland (horrible thought!) might lose the track; the track might lead to no place of importance, so far as her real inquiry was concerned.
In this hour of emergency, new and wiser ideas were flooding her brain. For instance, they might have admitted Inspector Dunbar to the plot. With Inspector Dunbar dogging her steps, she should have felt perfectly safe; but Denise--she had every respect for Denise's reasoning powers, and force of character--yet Denise nevertheless might fail her.
She glanced into the crooked eyes of Gianapolis, then up again at Palace Mansions.
The shadow of Henry Leroux recrossed the cream-curtained window.
"So early in the evening," pursued the Greek, rapidly, "the more interesting types will hardly have arrived; nevertheless, at the Memphis Cafe" . . .
"Memphis Cafe!" muttered Helen, glancing at him rapidly; "what an odd name."
"Ah! my dear Miss Cumberly!" cried Gianapolis, with triumph--"I knew that you had never heard of the true haunts of Bohemia! The Memphis Cafe--it is actually a club--was founded by Olaf van Noord two years ago, and at present has a membership including some of the most famous artistic folk of London; not only painters, but authors, composers, actors, actresses. I may add that the peerage, male and female, is represented."
"It is actually a gaming-house, I suppose?" said Helen, shrewdly.
"A gaming-house? Not at all! If what you wish to see is play for high stakes, it is not to the Memphis Cafe you must go. I can show you Society losing its money in thousands, if the spectacle would amuse you. I only await your orders" . . .
"You certainly interest me," said Helen; and indeed this half- glimpse into phases of London life hidden from the world--even from the greater part of the ever-peering journalistic world--was not lacking in fascination.
The planning of a scheme in its entirety constitutes a mental effort which not infrequently blinds us to the shortcomings of certain essential details. Denise's plan, a good one in many respects, had the fault of being over- elaborate. Now, when it was too late to advise her friend of any amendment, Helen perceived that there was no occasion for her to suffer the society of Gianapolis.
To bid him good evening, and then to follow him, herself, was a plan much superior to that of keeping him company whilst Denise followed both!
Moreover, he would then be much more likely to go home, or to some address which it would be useful to know. What a very womanish scheme theirs had been, after all; Helen told herself that the most stupid man imaginable could have placed his finger upon its weak spot immediately.
But her mind was made up. If it were possible, she would warn Denise of the change of plan; if it were not, then she must rely upon her friend to see through the ruse which she was about to practise upon the Greek.
"Good night, Mr. Gianapolis!" she said abruptly, and held out her hand to the smiling man. His smile faded. "I should love to join you, but really you must know that it's impossible. I will arrange to make up a party, with pleasure, if you will let me know where I can 'phone you?"
"But," he began . . .
"Many thanks, it's really impossible; there are limits even to the escapades allowed under the cloak of 'Copy'! Where can I communicate with you?"
"Oh! how disappointed I am! But I must permit you to know your own wishes better than I can hope to know them, Miss Cumberly. Therefore"--Helen was persistently holding out her hand--"good night! Might I venture to telephone to you in the morning? We could then come to some arrangement, no doubt" . . .
"You might not find me at home" . . .
"But at nine o'clock!"
"It allows me no time to make up my party!"
"But such a party must not exceed three: yourself and two others" . . .
"Nevertheless, it has to be arranged."
"I shall ring up to-morrow evening, and if you are not at home, your maid will tell me when you are expected to return."
Helen quite clearly perceived that no address and no telephone number were forthcoming.
"You are committing yourself to endless and unnecessary trouble, Mr. Gianapolis, but if you really wish to do as you suggest, let it be so. Good night!"
She barely touched his extended hand, turned, and ran fleetly back toward the door of Palace Mansions. Ere reaching the entrance, however, she dropped a handkerchief, stooped to recover it, and glanced back rapidly.
Gianapolis was just turning the corner.
Helen perceived the unmistakable form of Denise Ryland lurking in the Palace Mansions doorway, and, waving frantically to her friend, who was nonplussed at this change of tactics, she hurried back again to the corner and peeped cautiously after the retreating Greek.
There was a cab rank some fifty paces beyond, with three taxis stationed there. If Gianapolis chartered a cab, and she were compelled to follow in another, would Denise come upon the scene in time to take up the prearranged role of sleuth-hound?
Gianapolis hesitated only for a few seconds; then, shrugging his shoulders, he stepped out into the road and into the first cab on the rank. The man cranked his engine, leapt into his seat and drove off. Helen Cumberly, ignoring the curious stares of the two remaining taxi-men, ran out from the shelter of the corner and jumped into the next cab, crying breathlessly:
"Follow that cab! Don't let the man in it suspect, but follow, and don't lose sight of it!"
They were off!
Helen glanced ahead quickly, and was just in time to see Gianapolis' cab disappear; then, leaning out of the window, she indulged in an extravagant pantomime for the benefit of Denise Ryland, who was hurrying after her.
"Take the next cab and follow me!" she cried, whilst her friend raised her hand to her ear the better to detect the words. "I cannot wait for you or the track will be lost" . . .
Helen's cab swung around the corner--and she was not by any means certain that Denise Ryland had understood her; but to have delayed would have been fatal, and she must rely upon her friend's powers of penetration to form a third in this singular procession.
Whilst these thoughts were passing in the pursuer's mind, Gianapolis, lighting a cigarette, had thrown himself back in a corner of the cab and was mentally reviewing the events of the evening--that is, those events which were associated with Helen Cumberly. He was disappointed but hopeful: at any rate he had suffered no definite repulse. Without doubt, his reflections had been less roseate had he known that he was followed, not only by two, but by three trackers.
He had suspected for some time now, and the suspicion had made him uneasy, that his movements were being watched. Police surveillance he did not fear; his arrangements were too complete, he believed, to occasion him any ground for anxiety even though half the Criminal Investigation Department were engaged in dogging his every movement. He understood police methods very thoroughly, and all his experience told him that this elusive shadow which latterly had joined him unbidden, and of whose presence he was specially conscious whenever his steps led toward Palace Mansions, was no police officer.
He had two theories respecting the shadow--or, more properly, one theory which was divisible into two parts; and neither part was conducive to peace of mind. Many years, crowded with many happenings, some of which he would fain forget, had passed since the day when he had entered the service of Mr. King, in Pekin. The enterprises of Mr. King were always of a secret nature, and he well remembered the fate of a certain Burmese gentleman of Rangoon who had attempted to throw the light of publicity into the dark places of these affairs.
From a confidant of the doomed man, Gianapolias had learned, fully a month before a mysterious end had come to the Burman, how the latter (by profession a money-lender) had complained of being shadowed night and day by someone or something, of whom or of which he could never succeed in obtaining so much as a glimpse.
Gianapolis shuddered. These were morbid reflections, for, since he had no thought of betraying Mr. King, he had no occasion to apprehend a fate similar to that of the unfortunate money-lender of Rangoon. It was a very profitable service, that of Mr. King, yet there were times when the fear of his employer struck a chill to his heart; there were times when almost he wished to be done with it all . . .
By Whitechapel Station he discharged the cab, and, standing on the pavement, lighted a new cigarette from the glowing stump of the old one. A fair amount of traffic passed along the Whitechapel Road, for the night was yet young; therefore Gianapolis attached no importance to the fact that almost at the moment when his own cab turned and was driven away, a second cab swung around the corner of Mount Street and disappeared.
But, could he have seen the big limousine drawn up to the pavement some fifty yards west of London Hospital, his reflections must have been terrible, indeed.
Fate willed that he should know nothing of this matter, and, his thoughts automatically reverting again to Helen Cumberly, he enjoyed that imaginary companionship throughout the remainder of his walk, which led him along Cambridge Road, and from thence, by a devious route, to the northern end of Globe Road.
It may be enlightening to leave Gianapolis for a moment and to return to Mount Street.
Helen Cumberly's cabman, seeing the cab ahead pull up outside the railway station, turned around the nearest corner on the right (as has already appeared), and there stopped. Helen, who also had observed the maneuver of the taxi ahead, hastily descended, and giving the man half-a-sovereign, said rapidly:
"I must follow on foot now, I am afraid! but as I don't know this district at all, could you bring the cab along without attracting attention, and manage to keep me in sight?"
"I'll try, miss," replied the man, with alacrity; "but it won't be an easy job."
"Do your best," cried Helen, and ran off rapidly around the corner, and into Whitechapel Road.
She was just in time to see Gianapolis throw away the stump of his first cigarette and stroll off, smoking a second. She rejoiced that she was inconspicuously dressed, but, simple as was her attire, it did not fail to attract coarse comment from some whom she jostled on her way. She ignored all this, however, and, at a discreet distance followed the Greek, never losing sight of him for more than a moment.
When, leaving Cambridge Road--a considerable thoroughfare--he plunged into a turning, crooked and uninviting, which ran roughly at right angles with the former, she hesitated, but only for an instant. Not another pedestrian was visible in the street, which was very narrow and ill-lighted, but she plainly saw Gianapolis passing under a street-lamp some thirty yards along. Glancing back in quest of the cabman, but failing to perceive him, she resumed the pursuit.
She was nearly come to the end of the street (Gianapolis already had disappeared into an even narrower turning on the left) when a bright light suddenly swept from behind and cast her shadow far out in front of her upon the muddy road. She heard the faint thudding of a motor, but did not look back, for she was confident that this was the taxi-man following. She crept to the corner and peered around it; Gianapolis had disappeared.
The light grew brighter--brighter yet; and, with the engine running very silently, the car came up almost beside her. She considered this unwise on the man's part, yet welcomed his presence, for in this place not a soul was visible, and for the first time she began to feel afraid . . .
A shawl, or some kind of silken wrap, was suddenly thrown over her head!
She shrieked frenziedly, but the arm of her captor was now clasped tightly about her mouth and head. She felt herself to be suffocating. The silken thing which enveloped her was redolent of the perfume of roses; it was stifling her. She fought furiously, but her arms were now seized in an irresistible grasp, and she felt herself lifted--and placed upon a cushioned seat.
Instantly there was a forward movement of the vehicle which she had mistaken for a taxi-cab, and she knew that she was speeding through those unknown east-end streets--God! to what destination?
She could not cry out, for she was fighting for air--she seemed to be encircled by a swirling cloud of purplish mist. On--and on--and on, she was borne; she knew that she must have been drugged in some way, for consciousness was slipping--slipping . . .
Helpless as a child in that embrace which never faltered, she was lifted again and carried down many steps. Insensibility was very near now, but with all the will that was hers she struggled to fend it off. She felt herself laid down upon soft cushions . . .
A guttural voice was speaking, from a vast distance away:
"What is this that you bwring us, Mahara?"
Answered a sweet, silvery voice:
"Does it matter to you what I bringing? It is one I hate--hate-- hate! There will be two cases of 'ginger' to go away some day instead of one--that is all! Said, yalla!"
"Your pwrimitive passions will wruin us" . . .
The silvery voice grew even more silvery:
"Do you quarrel with me, Ho-Pin, my friend?"
"This is England, not Burma! Gianapolis" . . .
"Ah! Whisper--whisper it to him, and" . . .
Oblivion closed in upon Helen Cumberly; she seemed to be sinking into the heart of a giant rose.