Constance Dunlap/Chapter 12
"Newspaper pictures seldom look like the person they represent," asserted Lawrence Macey nonchalantly.
Constance Dunlap looked squarely at the man opposite her at the table, oblivious to the surroundings. It was a brilliant sight in the great after-theater, the beautiful faces and gowns, the exquisite music, the bright lights and the gayety. She had chosen this time and place for a reason. She had hoped that the contrast with what she had to say would be most marked in its influence on the man.
"Nevertheless," she replied keenly, "I recognize the picture—as though you were Bertillon's new 'spoken portrait' of this Graeme Mackenzie."
She deliberately folded up a newspaper clipping and shoved it into her hand-bag on a chair beside the table.
Lawrence Macey met her eye unflinchingly.
"Suppose," he drawled, "just for the sake of argument, that you are right. What would you do?"
Constance looked at the unruffled exterior of the man. With her keen perception she knew that it covered just as calm an interior. He would have said the same thing if she had been a real detective, had walked up behind him suddenly in the subway crush, had tapped his shoulder, and whispered, "You're wanted."
"We are dealing with facts, not suppositions," she replied evasively.
Momentarily, a strange look passed over Macey's face. What was she driving at—blackmail? He could not think so, even though he had only just come to know Constance. He rejected the thought before it was half formed.
"Put it as you please," he persisted. "I am, then, this Graeme Mackenzie who has decamped from Omaha with half a million—it is half a million in the article, is it not?—of cash and unregistered stocks and bonds. Now what would you do?"
Constance felt unconsciously the shift which he had skilfully made in their positions. Instead of being the pursuer, she was now the pursued, at least in their conversation. He had admitted nothing of what her quick intuition told her.
Yet she felt an admiration for the sang-froid of Macey. She felt a spell thrown over her by the magnetic eyes that seemed to search her own. They were large eyes, the eyes of a dreamer, rather than of a practical man, eyes of a man who goes far and travels long with the woman on whom he fixes them solely.
"You haven't answered my hypothetical question," he reminded her.
She brought herself back with a start. "I was only thinking," she murmured.
"Then there is doubt in your mind what you would do?"
"N—no," she hesitated.
He bent over nearer across the table. "You would at least recall the old adage, 'Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you'?" he urged.
It was uncanny, the way this man read her thoughts.
"You know whom they say quotes scripture," she avoided.
"And am I a—a devil?"
"I did not say so."
"You hinted it."
She had. But she said, "No, nor hinted it."
"Then you did not mean to hint it?"
She looked away a moment at the gay throng. "Graeme Mackenzie," she said, slowly, "what's the use of all this beating about? Why cannot we be frank with one another?"
She paused, then resumed, meditatively, "A long time ago I became involved with a man in a scheme to forge checks. I would have done anything for him, anything."
A cloud passed over his face. She saw it, had been watching for it, but appeared not to do so. His was a nature to brook no rivalry.
"My husband had become involved in extravagances for which I was to blame," she went on.
The cloud settled, and in its place came a look of intense relief. He was like most men. Whatever his own morals, he demanded a high standard in her.
"We formed an amateur partnership in crime," she hurried on. "He lost his life, was unable to stand up against the odds, while he was alone, away from me. Since then I have been helping those who have become involved, on the wrong side, with the law. There," she concluded simply, "I have put myself in your power. I have admitted my part in something that, try as they would, they could never connect me with. I have done it because—because I want to help you. Be as frank with me."
He eyed her keenly again. The appeal was irresistible.
"I can tell you Graeme Mackenzie's story," he began carefully. "Six months ago there was a young man in Omaha who had worked faithfully for a safe deposit company for years. He was getting eighty-five dollars a month. That is more than it seems to you here in New York. But it was very little for what he did. Why, as superintendent of the safe deposit vaults he had helped to build up that part of the trust company's business to such an extent that he knew he deserved more.
"Now, a superintendent of a safe deposit vault has lots of chances. Sometimes depositors give him their keys to unlock their boxes for them. It is a simple thing to make an impression in wax or chewing gum palmed in the hand. Or he has access to a number of keys of unrented boxes; he can, as opportunity offers, make duplicates, and then when the boxes are rented, he has a key. Even if the locks of unrented boxes are blanks, set by the first insertion of the key chosen at random, he can still do the same thing. And even if it takes two to get at the idle keys, himself and another trusted employe, he can get at them, if he is clever, without the other officer knowing it, though it may be done almost before his eyes. You see, it all comes down to the honesty of the man."
He paused. Constance was fascinated at the coolness with which this man had gone to work, and with which he told of it.
"This superintendent earned more than he received. He deserved it. But when he asked for a raise, they told him he was lucky to keep the job,—they reduced him, instead, to seventy-five dollars. He was angry at the stinging rebuke. He determined to make them smart, to show them what he could do.
"One noon he went out to lunch and—they have been looking for him ever since. He had taken half a million in cash, stocks, and bonds, unregistered and hence easily hypothecated and traded on."
"And his motive?" she asked.
He looked at her long and earnestly as if making up his mind to something. "I think," he replied, "I wanted revenge quite as much as the money."
He said it slowly, measured, as if realizing that there was now nothing to be gained by concealment from her, as if only he wanted to put himself in the best light with the woman who had won from him his secret. It was his confession!
Acquaintances with Constance ripened fast into friendships. She had known Macey, as he called himself, only a fortnight. He had been introduced to her at a sort of Bohemian gathering, had talked to her, direct, as she liked a man to talk. He had seen her home that night, had asked to call, and on the other nights had taken her to the theater and to supper.
Delicately unconsciously, a bond of friendship had grown up between them. She felt that he was a man vibrating with physical and mental power, long latent, which nothing but a strong will held in check, a man by whom she could be fascinated, yet of whom she was just a little bit afraid.
With Macey, it would have been difficult to analyze his feelings. He had found in Constance a woman who had seen the world in all its phases, yet had come through unstained by what would have drowned some in the depths of the under-world, or thrust others into the degradation of the demi-monde, at least. He admired and respected her. He, the dreamer, saw in her the practical. She, an adventurer in amateur lawlessness saw in him something kindred at heart.
And so when a newspaper came to her in which she recognized with her keen insight Lawrence Macey's face under Graeme Mackenzie's name, and a story of embezzlement of trust company and other funds from the Omaha Central Western Trust of half a million, she had not been wholly surprised. Instead, she felt almost a sense of elation. The man was neither better nor worse than herself. And he needed help.
Her mind wandered back to a time, months before, when she had learned the bitter lesson of what it was to be a legal outcast, and had determined always to keep within the law, no matter how close to the edge of things she went.
Mackenzie continued looking at her, as if waiting for the answer to his first question.
"No," she said slowly, "I am not going to hand you over. I never had any such intention. We are in each other's power. But you cannot go about openly, even in New York, now. Some one besides myself must have seen that article."
Graeme listened blankly. It was true. His fancied security in the city was over. He had fled to New York because there, in the mass of people, he could best sink his old identity and take on a new.
She leaned her head on her hand and her elbow on the table and looked deeply into his eyes. "Let me take those securities," she said. "I will be able to do safely what you cannot do."
Graeme did not seem now to consider the fortune for which he had risked so much. The woman before him was enough.
"Will you?" he asked eagerly.
"I will do with them as I would for myself, better, because—because it is a trust," she accepted.
"More than a trust," he added, as he leaned over in turn and in spite of other diners in the restaurant took her hand.
There are times when the rest of the critical world and its frigid opinions are valueless. Constance did not withdraw her hand. Rather she watched in his eyes the subtle physical change in the man that her very touch produced, watched and felt a response in herself.
Quickly she withdrew her hand. "I must go," she said rather hurriedly, "it is getting late."
"Constance," he whispered, as he helped her on with her wraps, brushing the waiter aside that he might himself perform any duty that involved even touching her, "Constance, I am in your hands—absolutely."
It had been pleasant to dine with him. It was more pleasant now to feel her influence and power over him. She knew it, though she only half admitted it. They seemed for the moment to walk on air, as they strolled, chatting, out to a taxicab.
But as the cab drew up before her own apartment, the familiar associations of even the entrance brought her back to reality suddenly. He handed her out, and the excitement of the evening was over. She saw the thing in its true light. This was the beginning, not the end.
"Graeme," she said, as she lingered for a moment at the door. "To-morrow we must find a place where you can hide."
"I may see you, though?" he asked anxiously.
"Of course. Ring me up in the morning, Graeme. Good-night," and she was whisked up in the elevator, leaving Mackenzie with a sense of loss and loneliness.
"By the Lord," he muttered, as he swung down the street in preference to taking a cab, "what a woman that is!"
Together the next day they sought out a place where he could remain hidden. Mackenzie would have been near her, but Constance knew better. She chose a bachelor apartment where the tenants never arose before noon and where night was turned into day. Men would not ask questions. In an apartment like her own there was nothing but gossip.
In the daytime he stayed at home. Only at night did he go forth and then under her direction in the most unfrequented ways.
Every day Constance went to Wall Street, where she had established confidential relations with a number of brokers. Together they planned the campaigns; she executed them with consummate skill and adroitness.
Constance was amazed. Here was a man who for years had been able to earn only eighty-five dollars a month and had not seemed to show any ability. Yet he was able to speculate in Wall Street with such dash that he seemed to be in a fair way, through her, to accumulate a fortune.
One night as they were hurrying back to Graeme's after a walk, they had to pass a crowd on Broadway. Constance saw a familiar face hurrying by. It gave her a start. It was Drummond, the detective. He was not, apparently, looking for her. But then that was his method. He might have been looking. At any rate it reminded her unpleasantly of the fact that there were detectives in the world.
"What's the matter?" asked Graeme, noticing the change in her.
"I just saw a man I know."
The old jealousy flushed his face. Constance laughed in spite of her fears. Indeed, there was something that pleased her in his jealousy.
"He was the detective who has been hounding me ever since that time I told you about."
"Oh," he subsided. But if Drummond had been there, Mackenzie could have been counted on to risk all to protect her.
"We must be more careful," she shuddered.
Constance was startled one evening just as she was going out to meet Graeme and report on the progress of the day at hearing a knock at her door.
She opened it.
"I suppose you think I am your Nemesis," introduced Drummond, as he stepped in, veiling the keenness of his search by an attempt to be familiar.
She had more than half expected it. She said nothing, but her coldness was plainly one of interrogation.
"A case has been placed in my hands by some western clients of ours," he said by way of swaggering explanation, "of an embezzler who is hiding in New York. It required no great reasoning power to decide that the man's trail would sooner or later cross Wall Street. I believe it has done so—not directly, but indirectly. The trail, I think, has brought me back to the proverbial point of 'cherchez la femme.' I am delighted," he dwelt on the word to see what would be its effect, "to see in the Graeme Mackenzie case my old friend, Constance Dunlap."
"So," she replied quietly, "you suspect me , now. I suppose I am Graeme Mackenzie."
"No," Drummond replied dubiously, "you are not Graeme Mackenzie, of course. You may be Mrs. Graeme Mackenzie, for all I know. But I believe you are the receiver of Graeme Mackenzie's stolen goods!"
"You do?" she answered calmly. "That remains for you to prove. Why do you believe it? Is it because you are ready to believe anything of me!"
"I have noticed that you are more active downtown than—"
"Oh, it is because I speculate. Have I no means of my own?" she asked pointedly.
"Where is he? Not here, I know. But where?" insinuated Drummond with a knowing look.
"Am I my brother's keeper?" she laughed merrily. "Come, now. Who is this wonderful Graeme Mackenzie? First show me that I know him. You know the rule in a murder case—you must prove the corpus delicti."
Drummond was furious. She was so baffling. That was his weak point and she had picked it out infallibly. Whatever his suspicions, he had been able to prove nothing, though he suspected much in the buying and selling of Constance.
A week of bitterness, of a constant struggle against the wiles of one of the most subtle sleuths followed, avoiding hidden traps that beset her on every side. Was this to be the end of it all? Was Drummond's heroic effort to entangle her to succeed at last?
She felt that a watch of the most extraordinary kind was set on her, an invisible net woven about her. Eyes that never slept were upon her; there was no minute in her regular haunts that she was not guarded. She knew it, though she could not see it.
It was a war of subtle wits. Yet from the beginning Constance was the winner of every move. She was on her mettle. They would not, she determined, find Graeme through her.
Days passed and the detectives still had no sign of the missing man. It seemed hopeless, but, like all good detectives, Drummond knew from experience that a clue might come to the surface when it was least expected. Constance on her part never relaxed.
One day it was a young woman dressed in most inconspicuous style who followed close behind her, a woman shadow, one of the shrewdest in the city.
A tenant moved into the apartment across the hall from Constance, and another hired an apartment in the next house, across the court. There was constant espionage. She seemed to "sense" it. The newcomer was very neighborly, explaining that her husband was a traveling salesman, and that she was alone for weeks at a time.
The lines tightened. The next door neighbor always seemed to be around at mail time, trying to get a look at the postmarks on the Dunlap letters. She had an excuse in the number of letters to herself. "Orders for my husband," she would smile. "He gets lots of them personally here."
All their ingenuity went for naught. Constance was not to be caught that way.
They tried new tricks. If it was a journey she took, some one went with her whom she had to shake off sooner or later. There were visits of peddlers, gas men, electric light and telephone men. They were all detectives, also, always seeking a chance to make a search that might reveal her secret. The janitor who collected the waste paper found that it had a ready sale at a high price. Every stratagem that Drummond's astute mind could devise was called into play. But nothing, not a scrap of new evidence did they find.
Yet all the time Constance was in direct communication with Mackenzie.
Graeme, in his enforced idleness, was more deeply in love with Constance now than ever. He had eyes for nothing else. Even his fortunes would have been disregarded, had he not felt that to do that would have been the surest way to condemn himself before her.
They had cut out the evening trips now, for fear of recognition. She was working faithfully. Already she had cleaned up something like fifty thousand dollars on the turn over of the stuff he had stolen. Another week and it would be some thousands more.
Yet the strain was beginning to show.
"Oh, Graeme," she cried, one night after she had a particularly hard time in shaking Drummond's shadows in order to make her unconventional visit to him, "Graeme, I'm so tired of it all—tired."
He was about to pour out what was in his own heart when she resumed, "It's the lonesomeness of it. We are having success. But, what is success—alone?"
"Yes," he echoed, thinking of his feeling that night when she had left him at the elevator, of the feeling now every moment of the time she was away from him, "yes, alone!"
With the utmost difficulty he restrained the wildly surging emotions within him. He could not know with what effort Constance held her poise so admirably, keeping always that barrier of reserve beyond which now and then he caught a glimpse.
"Let us cut out and bury ourselves in Europe," he urged.
"No," she replied firmly. "Wait. I have a plan. Wait. We could never get away. They would find us and extradite us surely."
She was coming out of a broker's office one day after the close of the market, only to run full tilt into Drummond, who had been waiting for her, cat-like. Evidently he had a purpose.
"You will be interested to know," remarked the detective, watching her narrowly, "that District Attorney Wickham, who had the case in charge out there, is in New York, with the president of the Central Western Trust."
"Yes?" she said non-committally.
"I told them I was on the trail, through a woman, and they have come here to aid me."
Why had he told her that? Was it to put her on her guard or was it in a spirit of bravado? She could not think so. It was not his style to bluster at this stage of the game. No, there was a deep-laid purpose. He expected her to make some move to extricate herself that would display her hand and betray all. It was clever and a less clever person than Constance would have fallen before the onslaught.
Constance was thinking rapidly, as he told her where and how the new pursuers were active. Here, she felt, was the crisis, her opportunity.
Scarcely had Drummond gone, than she, too, was hurrying down the street on her way to see Mackenzie's pursuers face to face.
She found Wickham registered at the Prince Henry, a new hotel and sent up her card. A few moments later he received her, with considerable restraint as if he knew about her and had not expected so soon to have to show his own hand.
"I understand," she began quickly, "that you have come to New York because Mr. Drummond claims to be able to clear up the Graeme Mackenzie case."
"Yes?" he replied quizzically.
"Perhaps," she continued, coming nearer to the point of her self-imposed mission, "perhaps there may be some other way to settle this case than through Mr. Drummond."
"We might hold you," he shot out quickly.
"No," she replied, "you have nothing on me. And as for Mr. Mackenzie, I understand, you don't even know where he is—whether he is in New York, London, Paris, or Berlin, or whether he may not go from one city to another at any moment you take open action."
Wickham bit his lip. He knew she was right. Even yet the case hung on the most slender threads.
"I have been wondering," she continued, "if there is not some way in which this thing can be compromised."
"Never," exclaimed Wickham positively. "He must return the whole sum, with interest to date. Then and only then can we consider his plea for clemency."
"You would consider it?" she asked keenly.
"Of course. We should have to consider it. Voluntary surrender and reparation would be something like turning state's witness—against himself."
Constance said nothing.
"Can you do it?" he asked, watching craftily to see whether she might not drop a hint that might prove valuable.
"I know those who might try," she answered, catching the look.
"What if we should get him without your aid?" he blustered.
"Try," she shrugged.
Arguments and threats were of no avail with her. She would say nothing more definite. She was obdurate.
"You must leave it all to me," she repeated. "I would not betray him. You cannot prove anything on me."
"Bring the stuff up here yourself, then," he insinuated.
"But I don't trust you, either," she replied frankly.
The two faced each other. Constance knew in her heart that it was going to be a battle royal with this man, that now she had taken a step even so far in the open it was every one for himself and the devil take the hindmost.
"I can't help it," he concluded. "Those are the terms. It is as far as I can trust a—a thief."
"But I will keep my word," she said quietly. "When you prove to me that you are absolutely on the level, that Mackenzie can make restitution in full with interest, and in return be left as free a man as he is at this moment—why,—I can have him give up."
"Mrs. Dunlap," said Wickham with an air of finality, "I will make one concession. I will adopt any method of restitution he may prefer. But it must be by direct dealing between Mackenzie and myself, with Drummond present as well as Mr. Taylor, president of the Trust Company, who is now also in New York. That is my ultimatum. Good-afternoon."
Constance left the room with flushed face and eyes that glinted with determination. Over and over she thought out methods to accomplish what she had planned. When they complied with all the conditions that would safeguard Mackenzie, she had determined to act. But Graeme must be master of the situation.
Cautiously she went through her usual elaborate precautions to shake off any shadows that might be following her, and an hour later found her with Mackenzie.
"What has happened!" he asked eagerly, surprised at her early visit.
Briefly she ran over the events of the afternoon. "Would you be willing," she asked, "to go to District Attorney Wickham, hand over the half million with, say, twelve thousand dollars interest, in return for freedom?"
Graeme looked at Constance a moment doubtfully.
"I would not do that," he measured slowly. "How do I know what they will do, the moment they get me in their power? No. Almost, I would say that I would not go there under any guarantee they might give. I do not trust them. The indictment must be dismissed first."
"But they won't do that. The ultimatum was personal restitution."
Constance was faced by an apparently insurmountable dilemma. She saw and agreed with the reasonableness of Graeme's position. But there was the opposition and obstinacy of Wickham, the bitterness and unscrupulousness of Drummond. Here was a tremendous problem. How was she to meet it?
For perhaps half an hour they sat in silence. One plan after another she rejected.
Suddenly an idea occurred to her. Somewhere, in a bank, she had seen a method which might meet the difficulty.
"To-morrow—I will arrange it—to suit both of you," she cried confidently.
"How?" he asked.
"Trust it all to me," she appealed.
"All," replied Graeme, rising and standing before her. "All. I will do anything you say."
He was about to take her hand, but she rose. "No, Graeme. Not now. There is work—the crisis. No, I must go. Trust me."
It was not until noon of the next day that he saw Constance again. There was an air of suppressed excitement about her as she entered the apartment and placed on a table before him a small oblong box of black enameled metal, beneath which was a roll of paper. Above was another somewhat similar box with another roll of paper.
Constance attached the instrument to the telephone, an enigmatical conversation followed, and she hung up the receiver.
A few minutes later, she took the stylus that was in the lower box. Hastily across the blank paper she wrote the words, "We are ready."
Mackenzie was too fascinated to ask questions. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something in the upper box move, as if of itself. It was a similar, self-inking stylus.
"Watch!" exclaimed Constance.
"Do you get this?" wrote the spirit hand.
"Perfectly," she scrawled in turn. "Go ahead, as you promised."
The upper stylus was now moving freely at the ends of its two rigid arms, counterparts of those holding the lower stylus.
"We promise," it wrote, "that in consideration of the return..."
"What is it?" interrupted Graeme, as the meaning of the words even now began to dawn on him.
"A telautograph," she replied simply, "a long distance writer which I have had installed over a leased wire from the hotel room of Wickham to meet the demands of you two. With it you write over wires just as with the telephone you talk over wires. It is as though you took one of the old pantagraphs, split it in half, and had each half connected only by the telephone wires. While you write on this transmitter, their receiver records for them what you write. Look!"
"... of $500,000," it continued to write, "in cash, stocks and bonds, with interest to date, all proceedings against Graeme Mackenzie will be dropped and the indictment quashed.
"Marshall Taylor, Pres. Central Western Trust."
"Maxwell Wickham, District Att'y."
"Riley Drummond, Detective."
"It is even broader than I had hoped," cried Constance in delight. "Does that satisfy you, Graeme?"
"Y-yes," he murmured, not through hesitation, but from the suddenness and surprise of the thing.
"Then sign this."
She wrote quickly: "In consideration of the dropping of all charges against me, I agree to tell the number and location of the safe deposit box in New York where the stocks and bonds I possess are located and to hand over a key and written order to the same. I now agree immediately to pay by check the balance of the half million, including interest."
She stepped aside from the machine. With a tremor of eagerness he seized the stylus and underneath what she had written wrote boldly the name, "Graeme Mackenzie."
Next Constance herself took the stylus. "Place in the telautograph a blank check," she wrote. "He will write in the name of the bank, the amount, and the signature."
She did the same. "Now, Graeme, sign this cheek on the Universal Bank as Lawrence Macey," she said, writing in the amount.
Mechanically he took the stylus. His fingers trembled as he held it, but with an effort he controlled himself. It was too weird, too uncanny to be true. Here he was, without stirring forth from the security of his hiding place; there were his pursuers in their hotel. With the precautions taken by Constance, neither party knew where the other was. Yet they were in instant touch, not by the ear alone, but by handwriting itself.
He placed the stylus on the paper. She had already written in the number of the check, the date, the bank, the amount, and the payee, Marshall Taylor. Hastily Graeme signed it, as though in fear that they might rescind their action before he could finish.
"Now the securities," she said. "I have withdrawn already the amount we have made trading—it is a substantial sum. Write out an order to the Safe Deposit Company to deliver the key and the rest of the contents of the box to Taylor. I have fixed it with them after a special interview this morning. They understand."
Again Graeme wrote, feverishly.
"I—we—are entirely free from prosecution of any kind?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes," Constance murmured, with just a catch in her throat, as now that the excitement was over, she realized that he was free, independent of her again.
The telautograph had stopped. No, it was starting again. Had there been a slip! Was the dream at last to turn to ashes? They watched anxiously.
"Mrs. Dunlap," the words unfolded, "I take my hat off to you. You have put it across again.
Constance read it with a sense of overwhelming relief. It was a magnanimous thing in Drummond. Almost she forgave him for many of the bitter hours he had caused in the discharge of his duty.
As they looked at the writing they realized its import. The detective had abandoned the long search. It was as though he had put his "O.K." on the agreement.
"We are no longer fugitives!" exclaimed Graeme, drawing in a breath that told of the weight lifted from him.
For an instant he looked down into her upturned face and read the conflict that was going on in her. She did not turn away, as she had before. It flashed over him that once, not long ago, she had talked in a moment of confidence of the loneliness she had felt since she had embarked as the rescuer of amateur criminals.
Graeme bent down and took her hand, as he had the first night when they had entered their strange partnership.
"Never—never can I begin to pay you what I owe," he said huskily, his face near hers.
He felt her warm breath almost on his cheek, saw the quick color come into her face, her breast rise and fall with suppressed emotion. Their eyes met.
"You need not pay," she whispered. "I am yours."