Black Star's Campaign/Chapter 9
ORDERS AND LETTERS
THE forces of law and order would have been interested, that day, had they watched Mamie Blanchard continually.
When she entered the little cottage, she locked the door on the inside, hurried through the kitchen and into the basement, and entered the tunnel. She went through it quickly, reached the door in the alley wall, listened, opened it, slipped into the alley, and slammed the door shut again. That door could not be opened from the outside unless a person knew exactly how to do it.
Mamie Blanchard hurried through the alley to the street, engaged a taxicab, and drove to a certain hotel, where she ascended in the elevator and went directly to a suite. It was not the same hotel she had visited after telling Sheriff Kowen about the gambling house, but she found the same people there—a middle-aged woman and a middle-aged man.
"Well?" the man asked gruffly.
"Couldn't be better," said Mamie Blanchard.
"I let him see me, and he took me to his office in the jail. Said he knew that I was a member of the Black Star's band, and threatened to put me in a cell if I didn't tell all I knew. I bluffed him, of course, and then he got the wise idea of letting me go and trailing me. You could almost see it sticking out on his forehead." Miss Blanchard stopped to laugh.
"Go on!" the man commanded.
"The sheriff and a deputy trailed me. When I got near the cottage, I began acting in a peculiar manner. I hurried inside, locked the door, and went out through the tunnel and the alley. At the corner, I saw the sheriff and his deputy still looking at the cottage."
"Well, you did your part!" the man said. "Now we'll wait to learn whether the rest of the plan worked out."
They waited for half an hour. Then the telephone rang, and the man answered. When he hung up the receiver and turned away, he was grinning.
"It worked!" he said. "Number Ten has just reported. The sheriff sent for more men, and broke into the house. They found the basement room and read the orders, and they found the tunnel, too. Number Ten reports that the sheriff has gone to police headquarters."
"And that means," said Mamie Blanchard, "that there'll be half a hundred cops around that cottage to-night, and all the rest will be at the National Trust Company."
"Exactly! And while they are at the National Trust, we'll be looting the First National. That fake headquarters did the trick—just as the big boss said it would!"
"What now, Landers?" Miss Blanchard asked.
It was the first time she had spoken his name. Like herself, Landers had been in the Black Star's old organization, and now was one of the master criminal's shrewd lieutenants. He had helped organize the new band, and had engineered the Black Star's rescue.
"I must go and report," he said. "I'll report for you, too. You'd better stay pretty close to this suite for a few days. They'll be looking for you now, you know."
"I might as well be in jail as be a prisoner here," Mamie Blanchard pouted.
"It's orders!" Landers told her. "You'll be needed again soon, and needed badly."
Landers left the hotel, engaged a taxicab, and drove out along the river road until he came to a resort. He paid the chauffeur there, and walked along the shore, watching the bathers, acting like a prosperous man on a little holiday.
But after a time he left the resort and walked on along the road. He turned into a lane, when he was sure that he was not being observed, and approached a ramshackle farmhouse that was hidden in a grove.
Landers entered the house, went down a flight of steps to the basement, and stopped in a little room. There he put on a long black robe and his black mask, and touched a button. In the distance a bell tinkled. Then a buzzer sounded, and Landers opened the door and stepped into the Black Star's headquarters.
The master rogue was sitting at one end of the table. He got up and stepped to the nearest blackboard. Landers went to the one at the other end of the room, and picked up the chalk.
"Number One," he wrote.
"Countersign?" wrote the Black Star.
"Report!" the Black Star wrote.
Landers turned to the blackboard and wrote rapidly.
"Sheriff decoyed to fake headquarters. Decoy escaped in manner planned. Sheriff broke in and found room in basement. Number Ten reported to me that everything was left as it was, and that sheriff went immediately to police headquarters."
"Good," wrote the Black Star.
"Any further orders?"
"Act to-night in accordance with the orders given you yesterday," the Black Star wrote. "That is all."
Landers bowed, and backed from the room. He took off mask and gown and hung them up, put on his hat and gloves, and made his way from the house and into the lane again. Once more he was the prosperous gentleman enjoying a day in the woods and along the river.
Back in the old farmhouse, the Black Star was receiving another report, this time by telephone.
"Number Eight," said the voice.
"Countersign?" asked the Black Star.
"I have been in communication with Number Twelve, who is in police headquarters. Sheriff Kowen went there and held a conference with the chief and Roger Verbeck. They fell hard for that fake headquarters stunt. They are planning to watch the place to-night, and all officers not there will be in the neighborhood of the National Trust Company, where they expect us to strike."
"Very good!" the Black Star said. "You have your orders for to-night?"
"Carry them out. There is nothing new!"
The master rogue hung up the receiver, put the telephone away in a secret niche in the wall, and sat down at the end of the long table again. A man entered with a tray containing luncheon, and the Black Star removed his mask and ate. The servant was a member of the old organization, and took part in no crimes—it was not necessary for the Black Star to wear a mask in his presence.
Having eaten, the master criminal stretched himself on a couch in one corner of the room, and slept. It was dusk when he awakened. He ate again, and as he finished the little bell on the wall jangled. The Black Star put on his mask, and touched a button.
The robed and masked man who entered was small. He went directly to the blackboard.
"Number Sixteen," he wrote.
"First National received shipment of currency to-day as expected," the other wrote.
"Three hundred thousand."
"What else have you to report?"
"One of the watchmen is our man, and he will attend to the other. Number Twenty has investigated the vault, and reports that he can open it in twelve or fifteen minutes."
"How about transportation?" the Black Star wrote.
"One limousine and three closed autos; all has been arranged."
"Good!" the Black Star wrote. "That is all—except I want no mistakes made to-night."
The other man left the room. The master criminal touched a bell button, and the servant entered.
"Has the mechanic reported?" the Black Star asked.
"Yes, sir. The machine is in perfect working order, sir. He will test it further after dark."
"Very well. I want him to be ready to start about eleven thirty, perhaps a quarter of an hour sooner than that."
The servant bowed and left the room. The Black Star took paper out of a drawer, and a box of rubber stamps, and began composing a letter that was to cause the chief of police, the sheriff and Roger Verbeck much chagrin before morning.
To those poor fools whom it most concerns:
I was amused at the manner in which you guarded the little cottage so well. That fake headquarters was placed there in order to have you send all officers to the National Trust Building. I understand it fooled even Roger Verbeck. You may place all the blame on the sheriff, since he responded so well to my decoy. While you guard the National Trust, I shall be looting the First National of the shipment of currency it received to-day. It is the first blow in my campaign. And when you learn that I am looting it, and rush there, I shall—— But you will know what by the time you read this note.
The Black Star put the folded note into an envelope, and addressed it to the chief of police. Then he composed another to be mailed to a prominent newspaper.
I, the Black Star, begin my campaign to-night. Three nights from now, I and my men shall steal certain jewels and art objects that are famous. You may guess what they are, and where. Guard all jewels and objects of art in the city, if you wish, but that will not prevent us from getting them. *****
The Black Star put the letter into an envelope, addressed it, and then put both letters into one of his pockets. He glanced at his watch, and took off his robe, but retained the mask. He donned a heavy ulster, and rang for the servant again.
"Tell the mechanic to be ready in ten minutes," he said.
"After I have left the house, throw on the protecting current, and do not turn it off unless you get the proper signal."
"I understand, sir."
"The wires were tested this afternoon?"
"Yes, sir; everything is in excellent condition."
"Good!" said the Black Star.