Black Star's Campaign/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII

MYSTERY AND AN ALARM

MUGGS drove the powerful roadster slowly through the streets. The newsboys were crying extra editions of the evening papers, editions that had a great deal in them concerning the master crook and his intentions. Verbeck had Muggs stop, and bought the papers, and was glad to see that there was no inkling of Kowen's discovery in them.

Verbeck did not feel satisfied. Remembering the Black Star's methods, he could not convince himself that the master rogue would let himself be captured again just as he inaugurated his campaign of crime. If the National Trust Company was to be robbed, the Black Star would be there in person, unless he had changed his tactics, for previously he always had commanded his men during a big crime.

But even the greatest criminals are wrecked by trivial accidents, Verbeck knew well, and so he tried to tell himself that it was a careless woman member of the band who had betrayed the crook's headquarters and plans. Yet it was foreign to the character of The Princess, as Mamie Blanchard was called by the members of the organization, to be careless.

"Well, we'll know the truth soon!" Roger Verbeck told himself.

They reached police headquarters and went inside. The chief was waiting for them.

"Everything ready!" he announced. "We're going to land that crook quick this time! I'm taking no chances, you can bet! I'll have every available man around the National Trust Company's building. I've got some of them inside right now, and in the adjoining building, and there will be a crowd in the alley and in the streets."

"I went up and took a look at that cottage," Verbeck said.

"So that's what you were up to!" Muggs put in.

"How did it look?" the chief asked.

"Well, I can't swear to it, of course, but that basement room looked like the one where the Black Star had me last night; and the orders Kowen told us about were on the table. I didn't touch them, but I read them."

"Let us hope the crook doesn't get wise to the fact that we are on to him," said the chief.

"The chances are," said Verbeck, "that he had completed his work when Kowen and his men got inside the house, and that the Blanchard woman was the last of the band to visit there to-day. If the Black Star follows out his usual method, he'll hurry back there after he pulls off the robbery, providing we don't get him at the bank."

"And if he dodges us at the bank, the men will pick him up when he goes back to the cottage—very pretty!" the chief said. "Verbeck, I have an idea that we are going to win to-night. The rogue's good luck has deserted him, that's all."

The chief opened a box of cigars and passed it around. From time to time a sergeant came in to report about men being posted. Now and then some detective telephoned rumors and information he had gathered.

"The streets are jammed," the chief said, after one of these telephone calls. "The blamed newspapers are out with big stories of how the Black Star telephoned them that he would start his campaign of crime at midnight. Well, somebody in the mob might get hurt, but it helps us, in a way. It has been easier for us to get our men placed without some of the crook's gang reporting the fact to him."

"Oh, the chances are that he knows all about it," Verbeck said. "And he probably doesn't care. The Black Star is original, don't forget that. He'll not try to rob that trust company in any usual manner. He'll get into the building with his men in some way we do not expect, and if we're not on guard he'll get out again—with bags of gold. Did you inform the bank officials?"

"Great Scott, no!" gasped the chief. "They'd light up the place, remove the gold, give the whole thing away. We want to catch the Black Star. I'll guarantee that he'll never get away with anything there to-night. You don't seem to have much confidence, Verbeck."

"I haven't," Verbeck admitted. "I fought the Black Star before, you know. I can't make myself think that he will walk into a trap—yet everything seems to point toward it. Well, I'll be going, I guess. It is eleven o'clock now."

Muggs followed him to the curb, and this time Verbeck took the wheel when they got into the roadster. He drove through the city and toward the place where he lived, and, when he was sure that he was not being followed, he circled through the streets and approached the retail section of the city again.

Verbeck parked the roadster several blocks away from the National Trust Company. Then he and Muggs made their way through the crowd in the street, their caps pulled down over their eyes, Verbeck hoping that he would escape recognition.

They went through an alley, and stopped in the darkness just before they reached the other street. The rear of the trust company building was just opposite them.

"A quarter to twelve," Verbeck whispered. "The chief is to meet us here. The sergeants know where he is to be in case he is needed quickly."

"Why not get into the bank building?" Muggs asked. "Are we going to stay here in the alley and let a bunch of policemen do this thing? Gee, boss, ain't we goin' to handle it ourselves?"

"We'll be right on hand, Muggs, if anything starts," Verbeck promised him. "Don't worry about that!"

Five minutes later, the chief found them there.

"Now for the big drama!" the chief whispered. "Everybody is set and ready. That master criminal, as he calls himself, is due to receive the surprise of his life in a few minutes. I only hope he is on the job himself—glad to nab any of his crowd, of course, but he is the man we want in particular."

"Those orders read 'midnight,'" Verbeck said. "If he carries them out, we haven't long to wait."

"Got an idea he won't carry 'em out?" the chief asked.

"He may know that we are aware of his intention," Verbeck replied. "He isn't fool enough to walk into a trap when he knows where the trap is, you know."

The chief flashed his torch and glanced at his watch.

"Well, it's three minutes of midnight now," he said. "I wonder how he'll try it."

"He certainly will not walk up to the front door and break it down," said Verbeck, chuckling.

"I've got men in the basements of the buildings on both sides of the trust company," the chief said. "If he tries to use a tunnel, he'll find himself caught."

"He came down from the sky on one occasion," Verbeck reminded the chief.

"Look!" Muggs cried.

He had glanced up at the sky as Verbeck spoke, and now was clutching at their sleeves and asking them to look up, too. Far above the city a bright light appeared, a light that traveled in circles. It grew larger and brighter rapidly. It blazed forth like a monster searchlight, and bathed in splendor the building of the National Trust Company.

"Airplane!" Muggs gasped.

"Then he's a long way up in the air," said the chief. "An airplane makes considerable noise! It isn't an airplane!"

"Then what is it?" Verbeck asked.

"You've got me—but it isn't an airplane, or, if it is, it must be a couple of miles high. That light doesn't seem to be that high up."

The crowds in the street were yelling and shrieking now. The searchlight continued to bathe the trust company's building in brilliance. The police and deputies posted around the corner were amazed. Sheriff Kowen, on the other side of the building, ran around like an insane man, calling upon his men to do something.

The light was extinguished; and again it blazed forth, and this time it swept up and down the alley, revealing the chief and Verbeck and Muggs, and officers who had been posted there.

"The Black Star has something to do with that!" the chief said.

"And he's spotted us!" said Verbeck.

"Then we lose, for he'll not try to rob the trust company."

"Don't be too sure of that! Some of his band may be in there now, and this light, wherever it is, may be to attract our attention while other men carry away the loot."

"I've got plenty of men in the building," the chief replied, "and they'll flash a signal the moment they see anybody that doesn't belong in there. That light gets me. How high do you suppose it is?"

"It's comin' closer to the ground," said Muggs.

Once more the light was extinguished, and the crowds in the street grew silent. Again it blazed forth, and this time it was so bright and near that a man could not look into it.

Then they heard a laugh, and the well-known voice of the Black Star.

"Hello, chief! Hello, Verbeck and Muggs! Watching the trust company, are you? I'm afraid that'll not do any good!"

The chief drew his revolver and fired rapidly into the air. The Black Star's sarcastic laugh reached them, and the light was extinguished again. The sky was black; they saw nothing, heard nothing.

"What kind of a thing is this?" the chief gasped. "He wasn't more than a hundred feet above us when he spoke. What can it be? He can't be in an airplane, or we'd hear the roar of the engine!"

"And his band is probably looting the vault of the trust company right now, or has looted it!" Verbeck said.

He ran quickly across the street, and Muggs and the chief followed at his heels. They knocked on a rear door of the building, and it was opened at once.

"Everything all right?" the chief asked.

"Nothing doing yet, chief," replied the detective who had opened the door.

"We'll take a look and make sure," the chief said. "I don't like this business at all!"

They went through a corridor and found the two watchmen. They had the lights in the vault room switched on.

"That vault hasn't been touched," Verbeck said, "unless they have tunneled from beneath. The door hasn't been opened."

"That crook was wise," the chief declared. "He knew that we were here waiting for him. How he found it out is more than I can tell—some of Sheriff Kowen's carelessness, I suppose."

A detective came running toward them through the corridor.

"Chief!" he shrieked. "Sergeant just came from headquarters! He says that the Black Star's gang is looting the First National—just got the alarm!"