Black Star's Campaign/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII

ANOTHER TELEPHONE CALL

THE newspapers the following day were full of the exploits of the Black Star. They explained that the master crook had inaugurated his campaign of crime and revenge by looting two of the richest financial institutions in the city. From the First National his men had obtained more than three hundred thousand dollars in currency. From the vault of the National Trust Company had been taken a quarter of a million in gold coin.

Banking officials were frantic. They made arrangements to safeguard their property, fearing to lose the confidence of their depositors. They engaged extra watchmen, men they knew personally, since to engage a stranger, no matter how good his references, might be to put one of the Black Star's men in the place.

Sheriff Kowen and his deputies were blamed, the chief and his policemen were declared incompetent and inefficient, and Roger Verbeck and Muggs were held up to ridicule.

The mysterious light that had come out of the sky was described at length, and many speculations made as to its nature. The scene on the roof of the building, told by one of the detectives, was played up, and there were many conjectures as to what it meant.

Had the master criminal come into possession of some wonderful new invention? Was he able to escape when and as he liked? Some inclined toward this belief, and others declared that the Black Star had gone down a fire escape under the noses of the officers, entered the building through a window at some floor, walked down the stairs and emerged into the alley and gone his way. The Black Star, one paper stated, was a mere man and did not call upon the supernatural to aid him. He merely had better brains than the police.

Where would he strike next?

Within three days, he had said in his letter to one of the papers, he would steal, with the aid of his band, jewels and famous objects of art. Thousands of persons had valuable jewels, and it was well known that the master criminal was a gem fiend, that he had a great collection and gloated over them. Perhaps he meant a jewelry establishment, a wholesale diamond house.

When it came to famous objects of art, there was a wealth of them in the city. Two millionaires had great collections. There was a famous museum that housed several hundred priceless paintings. Here and there throughout the city were others.

Jewels were carried to safe-deposit vaults. The guards at the museum were doubled. The two millionaires obtained police protection for their residences. And the city waited.

Two days passed, during which nothing was heard of the Black Star and his band. Sheriff Kowen and his deputies searched in vain for Mamie Blanchard. Roger Verbeck and Muggs drove about in the big roadster continually, watching people, trying to catch a glimpse of some known member of the Black Star's old organization.

The city was gone over, block by block, in an effort to locate the master crook's headquarters, but to no avail. The search extended to the suburbs, but nobody thought of the old farmhouse far up the river near the pleasure resort.

"Well, it's about time we heard from him again!" the chief said to Verbeck on the morning of the third day.

"I look for him to strike to-night," Verbeck said.

"And where do you think he'll strike?"

"That is the puzzle," Verbeck admitted. "I scarcely think he will attempt the museum. It would be a blow to civic pride if he did and succeeded, of course, but the odds would be against him."

"He seems to thrive on odds that are against him," the chief replied.

"Sooner or later, we'll get him!" Verbeck declared. "Sooner or later one of his people will make a slip that will give us the clew we need. They can't keep it up forever."

"But I want to land him right away!" the chief fumed. "Did you happen to read the morning paper? If this sort of thing keeps up, the mayor will be asking for my resignation, and I'll go out of office without having vindicated myself. Confound Kowen, anyway! Why couldn't he keep the crook when he had him? But for Kowen, the Black Star would be doing time in the big prison right now!"

"But he isn't—and it doesn't do any particular good to wail about it," said Verbeck. "The thing to do is to get him again. Made any plans?"

"I'm up in the air!" the chief complained. "What plans can I make? I've got men guarding the museum, and those millionaires' residences, and a few scattered near the jewelry establishments. And I'll hold men ready to go to any section of the city when we get an alarm. That is all I can do. If we knew where he was going to strike——"

A buzzer sounded, and the chief took up the telephone.

"Hello!" he called.

"That you, chief?"

"Yes."

"Ah, good morning. This is the Black Star! I have tapped a private line again, chief, to have a little chat with you! I've been resting for a couple of days, giving my men and women a holiday. But I'm eager to be busy again!"

"When I get my hands on you——" the chief began.

"Tut, tut! Why do you always grow violent when I do you the honor of calling you up?"

"Honor? Insult, you mean! We'll get you, and get you good, one of these days!"

"I'll have all the wealth in town if you delay it very long," said the Black Star laughing. "By the way, chief, I'd suggest that you keep a lot of your men at headquarters to-night. You are going to need them."

"Think so?"

"I know it! And I have a faint idea that the newspapers are going to say more naughty things about you to-morrow. That was a pretty grilling the Herald gave you, wasn't it?"

"I'll give you a grilling when I get my hands you!" the chief said. "So you're going to pull off some sort of a stunt to-night, are you?"

"I am. Inaction bores me, chief. My men are eager to get to work again. They take great pleasure in helping outwit the stupid men on your force."

"We'll see who'll do the final outwitting!" the chief cried. "I'm going to——"

"Going to get me, I think you said before. Sorry to dispute you, chief, but I can't agree. How do you expect to accomplish it?"

"Tell me one thing," said the chief. "How did you get off that roof, and where did you go?"

"Sorry, but that is a sort of state secret for the present," the Black Star replied.

"Well, if you didn't go down one of the fire escapes, write a letter to the newspapers and say so. They're swearing that you walked right out of that building before our noses."

"All right, chief, I'll inform the papers that I did nothing of the kind. But I'll not explain at this time just what I did do. You see, I might want to do it again soon."

"If you are so blamed sure of your ability, why not tell me what you are going to do to-night?"

"Gladly chief. I am going to collect some jewels and some objects of art."

"Oh, are you?" asked the chief. "Going to collect them in any particular spot?"

"Naturally; but I do not intend to tell you the spot just now. That would be running too much of a risk, I am afraid. By the way, is Mr. Verbeck there?"

"He is!"

"I haven't time to speak to him, but will you kindly tell him for me that I hope he shows more speed in this little duel with me. I was disgusted with him the other evening—he showed no cleverness at all. Tell him that I hope he improves. And now, chief, I must end the conversation for the time being."

There was a click at the other end of the wire. The chief slammed the receiver into its hook and whirled around in his chair.

"Wanted me to tell you to show more cleverness and make the game more interesting, Verbeck," the chief said. "Make it interesting for him if we get the chance, all right! Says he's going to collect jewels and objects of art this evening."

"Then I suppose he'll do it," Verbeck said. "Have your men ready to jump out as soon as the alarm comes in. What is the sheriff doing, chief?"

"Kowen? Sleeping on the job, I suppose. He swears that he and his deputies will catch the Black Star—beat us to it. I had a row with him yesterday at luncheon. Kowen makes me tired! He's looking for that Blanchard woman."

"The Princess? He's not likely to find her," Verbeck said. "Either the Black Star has sent her out of the city, or she is in hiding some place where she'll not be located easily. You can wager that the Black Star takes good care of The Princess—she is one of the most valuable members of his band!"