TABLE OF CONTENTS
Young Ryan looked down the Worcester platform through the canyon formed by the mail and express cars. Catching the desired final signal, he passed the word to his chief, Carruthers.
Carruthers unthrottled the giant at his command; and the long heavy Boston express got under way, with a deep and mighty puffing of the engine, the dull grind of its reluctant wheels, the clank of trucks and the clink-clank of the couplings as each preceding coach began to move and communicated motion to the following.
As the train gathered way rapidly — fifteen minutes behind schedule on its way to Boston — a tall man in a dark blue suit emerged from somewhere among the clutter of trunks and crates and bales and, running alongside of the smoking car, grasped the rail of the end of the car and after a few paces swung himself aboard, going swiftly up the steps and entering the coach.
He passed up the car looking from left to right. The car was exceedingly crowded, some men sitting on the arm rests of the seats, and even then in the middle of the afternoon it was almost dusky because of tobacco smoke.
The tall man went up the car slowly, but saw no vacant seat. There were two or three groups of card players, but, notwithstanding this, all the seats seemed to be taken. The traveler who had made the train by the skin of his teeth, as the saying is, passed the groups of players and went on.
The fourth seat from the front of the coach on the right-hand side was occupied by but one person — a stout, sleek, prosperous-looking man of fifty or thereabouts, dressed in a neat gray suit and wearing a mouse-colored fedora. At this seat, the tall man halted.
“Seat engaged?” he asked.
The other man looked up and smiled slightly in good humor. He had a merry, but very keen blue eye, and his face had a healthy glow of red and tan — the face of an outdoor man or of a business man who is faithful to his golf. He shook his head and moved in a trifle farther toward the window.
The tall man sat down and relaxed, leaning his trim, broad shoulders back against the seat. He was a fine-looking man between thirty-five and forty, with a hawk-like, yet boyish face. After a covert scrutiny of his seatmate from deep-set, keen dark eyes, he drew down his felt hat somewhat over his forehead and seemed to compose himself for a nap.
While he sat in this position with his eyes closed, the stout man looked him over, studying his face and clothes — apparently puzzled. The tall, athletic man was neatly dressed, but, somehow or other, he seemed to give his clothes distinction and seemed not to get from the clothes the setting proper for such a trim, handsome fellow.
The forward door of the coach opened, and the conductor, spectacles perched on the top of his nose, came in, followed by an assistant.
When the door opened, Durkee, the tall man, opened his eyes and began leisurely to reach into his pockets for ticket or money. From the first pocket his hand came out empty, and an odd expression came across his face. He sat upright and hastily, but without flurry, searched for the necessary tender. Presently, he gave a shrug of the shoulders and sat back. He was a man of the world — that was clear — but, notwithstanding, he was mentally squirming as the conductor, a grizzled-haired man with a stiletto eye and a very short, but polite tongue, collected from one man and then another.
Durkee gave an inaudible breath of embarrassment and vexation as the official at length stood next to him, actually touching him as he leaned over to give a mere glance at the stout man’s punched slip tucked in the hold in the seat ahead.
“Ticket, sir,” said the conductor,
Durkee looked up, a slight smile on his dark, handsome face.
“I came away in a hurry,” he said, “and I haven’t a red cent on me as far as I can find.”
There was just a moment of silence, and Durkee felt that embarrassment which any roan, no matter how practiced a traveler he may be, feels when he is without funds and left to the mercy of a man who daily has to judge between humbugs and innocents.
“We stop at Framingham, sir, I’m sorry, but” —
“Beg pardon,” interposed the stout man, turning to Durkee with a smile. “Where you going?”
“Boston?” answered Durkee.
“What’s the tax, Doctor?” inquired the stout man, blandly.
The conductor named the price and prepared a rebate slip and passed it to the stout man when he had paid Durkee’s fare.
“I haven’t even my watch on,” said Durkee when the conductor had passed on. “I’m very much obliged to you.”
“Don’t mention it, my friend. I’ve been in similar predicaments.”
They conversed for a little while on general topics of the time — cautious on the subject of politics — but presently lapsed into silence and rode on for ten or fifteen minutes without speaking.
“Live in Boston?” asked Grant, breaking the silence.
“No,” returned Durkee. His tone was not of rebuff, but he volunteered no information about himself.
“By the way,” he said, at length, “if you’ll give me your name and address, I’ll send you my fare.”
Mr. Grant waved his hand and uttered a little laugh.
“That’s all right,” he said.
“It’s not all right,” declared the other, mildly emphatic. “There’s no reason why you should pay my fare.”
Mr. Grant half turned and looked his seatmate over with a marvelously quick glance.
“If that’s the way you feel about it, Mister,” he said slowly, “it may be you can do a little bit of a favor for me.”
Durkee in his turn eyed his seat-mate again in a furtive manner, his deep-set, sharp eye missing nothing. A little curve appeared at the corners of his mouth — but went quickly away.
“The fact is, I’m in a mean little fix,” said Grant. “I suppose I can rest in confidence upon your word of secrecy if you don’t care to help me?”
“Yes — if I pass my word,” responded Durkee.
“And do you pass the word?” asked the other, quickly.
“Well, this is the case. Maybe you’ve heard of the Pelton bank robbery a few days ago?”
“No,” said Durkee. “Don’t recall hearing about it.”
The stout man looked surprised, seemed about to say something, then apparently changed his line of thought and speech.
“Well, there was one there, and they say the robbers got away with about — I think about twenty thousand, or something like that. There was a lot of talk about some of the town police being mixed up in the business, and some of the — er, officers are in a peck of trouble over it.”
“All news to me,” asserted the tall man, carelessly.
“The truth is, Mister, I’m one of the officers there in Pelton, and definite charges have been made against me. In fact, confidentially, I was to be arrested, and I’m on my way to Boston to see some friends — high-up fellows who can do things. See?”
“As I say, the fellows are out to ‘get’ me — it’s a frame-up back there, you see; — and I got a feeling that I may be pinched in the South Station. Now, you can see — any man of good sense knows how these things go — that if I don’t get to my friends first I’ll be in a pretty pickle. That’d be a trump play against me. I don’t want to be caught in Boston and sidetracked and have it come out in the Boston papers and copied at home.”
“I don’t blame you,” commented Durkee, looking at the other from the corner of his eye, a thrill running through him.
“No, I don’t think anybody can blame me,” said Grant — “anybody who knows about politics. Now, the idea that came to me was this — that you and I put on a pair of handcuffs and give those fellows the slip in the station, just as if you were taking me down. Get the idea?”
“Yes, but I don’t carry such articles with me — not as a rule,’’ responded Durkee, with a grin.
“Well, I always do, of course. Do you think you could help me, through the crowd, taking the part of an officer conducting me to the authorities?”
Durkee smiled, looking at the other covertly with a queer light back in his keen eyes.
“Suppose I can’t bluff the thing through, my friend, if you’re right and someone’s waiting for you? — what then?”
Grant turned and looked squarely at him for an instant.
During that instant all the humor was absent from his blue eyes, in its place a hard, very hard look.
Then he laughed shortly, that odd gleam disappearing.
“Why,” he said, at length, “I’ll release you and do the best I can.”
“They might hold me under the circumstances. Couldn’t blame them much. It’s pretty risky, Mister, I should say.”
Grant looked out of the window for a few moments and then turned back to the other, failing to see the look of satisfaction or triumph — or whatever it was — that passed over Durkee’s face.
“I shall be glad to give you say, fifty dollars, young man. I mean, of course, this in addition to your fare,” he supplemented, jokingly.
“I don’t see that it can do much harm, anyway,” remarked Durkee, rather carelessly. “The only danger is that they might make things unpleasant for me.”
“Oh, I’ll see that you don’t get in wrong, anyway.”
“Well, then, I’ll try to help you out,” promised Durkee. “Got ‘em?”
After a careful glance about. Grant produced a pair of handcuffs. He clicked one hold on his left wrist, and then Durkee, after a slight hesitation, linked his thin, sinewy, long-fingered hand to the other’s.
In this fashion they rode the rest of the way to Boston, avoiding the subject which linked them together and chatting casually on various matters of interest to ordinary citizens.
The express stopped at Huntington Station. A few people got off, and a few got on. Two broad-shouldered, keen-eyed men, obviously together, came into the smoking-car by way of the forward door and came down looking from left to right. They noted Grant and Durkee and the bond that held them, and without comment passed on, swiftly, but in a very business-like way.
“No one I know,” announced Grant, as the two went on after the first glance.
He spoke in a matter-of-fact way, but Durkee perceived that he was really much relieved. The train got under way after a very short stop and sped on, finally coming to journey’s end under the mammoth shed of South Station.
Durkee and Grant descended promptly from the smoker and went up to the shed with the crowd. The tide of people converged and narrowed as it approached the gate of the shed and, passing through the entrance, spread out into the open space and began immediately to lose its entity among the throng scurrying here and there in every direction.
As Durkee and Grant passed through the gateway and bore off to the left, neither hurrying nor lagging, a burly, ruddy-faced man in dark clothes came from the fence — noting them as soon as they issued from the shed.
“Well, well — hello, Kelly,” he said, mockingly jovial, but with an under-note of real and intense satisfaction, and as he gave the greeting he grasped Mr. Grant by the arm, apparently ready for trouble, as if he knew something about the peculiar light that could shine in the other’s eyes.
At the same moment he noticed Durkee and the bond between him and the stout man he addressed as Kelly. He lifted his eyebrows in surprise and favored Durkee with a steady and half-hostile look.
As this man accosted and touched Grant, another big man of the same cut approached from another direction and joined the trio, a little grin coming to his face as he saw Grant.
“Hello, Kelly,” said this newcomer, speaking very much as the other stranger had spoken. “At last!”
“Hello, Moran,” returned Mr. Grant, with composure.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” put in Durkee, promptly and courteously, “but it’s hands off for you. Nothing doing at all. I got Kelly for the First National break in Portland two years ago. Lighted on him in Worcester by accident. Sorry” — a tantalizing slight grin came on his hawk-like face — “but you can come up and have him in just about twelve years.”
The first burly man drew back a pace, scowling. Then he shrugged his broad shoulders resignedly and used strong language feelingly.
Kelly, for his part, shot a quick glance at the man whose fare he had paid, his blue eyes like rapier points; but after that look he glanced at the disappointed Boston men and laughed at them.
“Tough luck, boys,” said Durkee, “but you can have him when we’re through. Come on, old bird.”
He gave Kelly a slight tug, and, Kelly grinning queerly, they walked elbow to elbow through the throng and out of the station.
Durkee secured a taxicab and, having given his direction — North Station — entered the designated cab with his captive.
When they were in the vehicle, Durkee pulled the curtain on his side half way down, Kelly following suit at his request.
“Well, I’ll be confounded!” exclaimed Kelly as they crossed the tracks and went into Atlantic Avenue. “You got a quick wit, my friend.”
He looked steadily at his companion through half-closed lids. Producing a key, he reached over to insert it.
As his right hand came down, Durkee’s left hand, with long, sinewy fingers, closed over it with a grip of steel and suddenly twisted the key from the other’s possession.
Kelly, protruding his head bellicosely, glared at Durkee, his eyes now green and glinting; and Durkee met his glare with a dancing light in his eyes.
“Come across now, Kelly,” said Durkee coolly, a grin coming to his face.
“So you’re the real thing, are you,” exclaimed Kelly with a vicious sneer — “a real bull, eh? Walked right into you, didn’t I? Funny, too, ‘cause I had a feeling before we got to Boston that there was something off about you. Well, well.”
He spoke evenly and smoothly now, and settled back a little.
Durkee held his free hand to the window and kept his eye upon the other man.
“Don’t you pull that gun, Kelly,” he said, quietly, in a quick warning. “or I’ll drop the key and smash you. And come across!”
“That’s your game, eh?”
“That — or delivery in Portland. I knew you were Kelly two minutes after we began to talk?”
“How much? — a hundred?”
Durkee laughed mirthlessly, and dexterously released his right hand from the cuff and slipped the key in his pocket.
“All you got on you now,” he answered, sitting tense like a coiled spring.
As he spoke, Kelly — having hesitated just long enough to let Durkee free his hand, although noting his action — drew back with a jerk; and at the instant he drew back, his hand whipping behind, Durkee fell upon him like a bolt of lightning.
WELL, WHO ARE YOU?
Kelly was a hard man and a fighter; but the younger man, trim and lithe, was a tiger, and in less than two minutes he had him half throttled and had his right hand in the hold of the cuff he himself had worn.
He took Kelly’s automatic from the hip pocket and placed it upon his own person and then, ruthlessly bearing the stubborn, undaunted bank robber down, made an exceedingly rich haul from various parts of Kelly’s clothes — -thousands of dollars in notes of large denominations — all of which he placed in his own pockets, despite the other’s vicious struggling.
As soon as he had convinced himself that he had taken all the money Kelly had, Durkee signaled the taxi chauffeur to stop, and when the car had come to a standstill at the curb he opened the door and stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine and the atmosphere of fish and dirty water.
“Kelly,” said he with a grin, “I’ll give the key to his nibs here and tell him to unlock you at the North Station. From there you may go anywhere you please.”
“Who the blazes are you, anyway?” demanded Kelly, after delivering a volley of vituperation — the only effect of which was to make the other man’s grin broaden.
“See here, Kelly,” said Durkee, calmly, making no response to the question, “you haven’t any kick coming. I got you through the line all right, saved you from a lot of trouble, and I know you got a lot of stuff somewhere. I kept my word not to squeal, and you can afford to pay. So quit your growling.”
“Well, who are you?”
“Really like to know?”
“Yes,” returned Kelly with a savage, almost frenzied growl.
“Well,” said Durkee, smoothly, with great gravity — mock, maddening gravity — “I’ll tell if you think it will make you feel better. My name is Ricker H. Tucker in real life. By profession I am, like you yourself — a bank robber; but an unfortunate one, mediocre, and until two days ago I was incarcerated in a New Hampshire retreat, I had just worked down to Worcester, and there, as you know, fortune brought me face to face, side by side, with the master of our craft — Aloysius Kelly — fortune at the same time giving me an opportunity to run the Boston lookout and to fill an empty pocket. I admire you, Kelly — I take off my hat to you” — the tall, eagle-faced rascal who had indulged himself in the luxury of several truthful statements took off his hat with an ironical bow — “and as one who has done time, I admiringly admit that you’re the better man, and — I thank you.”
Durkee slammed the door, gave the handcuff key to the chauffeur and told him to drive to North Station and there release Kelly. He was sport enough to pay for the ride, too, — with a bit to spare.
As the cab darted from the curb with the frantic Kelly, he looked after it for a moment with a smile, then, turning, walked swiftly back in the way he had come.
That same night Mr. Durkee sat smoking contentedly on the deck of a barkentine passing the Graves en route for Rio de Janeiro. He was thinking of the stout man whom he had helped as desired — the king of bank robbers who had never served a sentence, whose reputation he himself had that day saved — but was not worrying about him or his welfare. It was natural that he should think of him, for he had secured from brother Kelly the snug sum of $15,000 plus. But mostly he was letting his mind dwell virtuously upon reform under comfortable conditions, upon a life of strict obedience to the law — at least while the money lasted.
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