Out of Death's Shadow. A Case Without a Precedent

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CHAPTER I.

A MAN WITHOUT A SECRET.

On the shady veranda of an old-fashioned Southern house, on the outskirts of St. Louis, two men in the prime of life were enjoying their cigars one fine morning.

One, the younger, with a fair, full face and honest, gray eyes, after a long period of silence, said:

"To-morrow will decide her fate, Nick. You have worked up a strong case against her, but I am afraid of the jury."

"The jury is all right. We have seen to that, John. Conviction is certain. It has been an easy case for me."

The woman to whose trial reference had been made had killed her husband, but the deed had not been witnessed, and it was due to Nick Carter's efforts that a complete case for the prosecution had been made out.

"Murder is a secret of such awful weight," said Nick, "that there are few men, to say nothing of women, who are able successfully to carry it."

"It will out some time or other, eh?"

"In the majority of cases, yes. Of course, there are

[6]

 instances where the crime of taking human life has remained an unsolved and seemingly insoluble mystery, but such instances have, in my opinion, resulted either through a chain of accidents, impossible to foresee, or through the negligence or inefficiency of the officers of the law, whose duty it was to use all possible skill and diligence in arriving at the facts. In this woman's case we have, I think, exercised all necessary skill and diligence. To-morrow the end will come, and the next day I shall be on my way to New York."

"You have been here but a week, Nick, and yet I feel as if I had known you a lifetime. When you introduced yourself as an old friend of my mother, I knew in a moment that I had myself found a friend, and one after my own heart."

The young fellow's earnestness and feeling warmed the cockles of the great detective's heart. He liked John Dashwood and he took no pains to conceal the fact. A portly, well-groomed man of sixty, with a self-satisfied smile on his keen, smoothly shaven face, who had come out of the house and approached unperceived, now broke in with the remark:

"I'll bet it's a secret you are discussing."

"What makes you think so?" asked John Dashwood quickly.

"The expression of your face. There is certainly something about the position of your lips, your eyes are slightly narrowed, your head is bowed in a suspicious manner, your——"

[7]

"Might we not have been exchanging simple confidences?" put in Nick, with a smile.

"Possibly. But confidences are secrets, you know."

The speaker leaned against the railing in front of the two friends and regarded them benignly.

"We were not discussing secrets," said Dashwood, as he threw back his head, though his manner was pleasant enough.

"No? Then you should have been, for all of us have our secrets."

Dashwood shook his head. "You must except me, Mr. Leonard," he said.

"What? A man without a secret? Come, now, Dashwood, you must be joking. I don't assume, of course, that any secret you may have hidden in your breast is of a shady nature, but to say that your mind is an open book, that during your twenty-six years of life—twenty-six or twenty-seven, which is it?"

"Twenty-six."

"That during your twenty-six years of life you have never had any experience which, for honorable reasons, you have thought best to keep to yourself, or have never been the recipient of another's secret, equally honorable, but not proper for publication, is to stamp you as an exceptional man."

Dashwood laughed.

"I am an exceptional man, then, for really I haven't any secrets. But as for Mr. Carter, here," turning and nodding in his friend's direction, "he is nothing less than

[8]

 a walking mystery. He has to be, you know, for he is a detective."

Mr. Leonard looked keenly at Nick Carter.

"How is it?" he asked, in a bantering tone. "Are you as Dashwood says, or is he mistaken, and are you to be placed with him in the category of unfledged innocents? Come now, out with the truth. Are you a man with a corroding secret, or are you not?"

"There are some matters of no concern to the general public," replied Nick, rather coldly, "which I have found advisable to keep to myself. But"—with a smile—"they are honest ones, I assure you."

"Would your enemies think so if they knew them?" queried Leonard provokingly.

"My enemies give me little concern."

"Neither do mine, for I have none," said John Dashwood proudly.

Gabriel Leonard lifted his eyebrows. Then he spoke rather cynically. "You are both to be congratulated. Dashwood, especially. A man without a secret and with not an enemy in the world! Your condition, I suppose, must be attributed to the very lucky circumstances that have hitherto surrounded your existence."

Dashwood nodded. "I have been lucky, I know, and the greatest piece of luck that ever came in my way, Mr. Leonard, was when I made your daughter my wife."

As he spoke, pride and satisfaction, strong and deep, were expressed in his honest countenance.

"Letty ought to have heard that pretty speech," said

[9]

 Leonard lightly, though in his heart he was vastly pleased with his son-in-law's appreciation of the treasure he had won.

Nick accompanied his friend up-town that morning and left him at a large building on Market Street, a few blocks from the Union Depot, with the understanding that they should dine together in the afternoon. John Dashwood was the manager of a manufacturing company of which Gabriel Leonard was the president. His parents were dead and he lived with his father-in-law, who was a widower.

The friends took dinner in an Olive Street restaurant. Dashwood's brow was clouded throughout the meal.

"What's the matter, John?" Nick asked. "Anything wrong in the office?"

"I hope not; but a good bit of money has come in lately, and the books do not show what they ought to show."

"Did you find any pronounced irregularities?"

"I have found something that excites my suspicions, but I can't make sure that there has been crooked work until I have gone over the books thoroughly and compared vouchers, and so forth. I shall work at them to-night, for I know I sha'n't sleep a wink until I have matters straightened out. It's lucky Letty is away on a visit to Chicago, or she would be terribly worried over the muddle."

Nick looked grave.

"John," he said earnestly, "there may be more in this

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 than you have any idea of. What do you say? May I come round to-night and give you the benefit of my experience?"

"Yes. I shall be glad to have you. Come at, say, nine o'clock."

"All right."

It was six o'clock when they parted. At nine Nick went up the elevator to the floor upon which was located the office of the manufacturing company. He knocked at the door, but there was no answer. He waited a moment and knocked again. Still no answer. By means of the keyhole he saw that there was no light in the office. Dashwood, then, was not there. Something must have happened, something out of the ordinary, to cause this punctiliously honorable young man to slight an appointment with a friend. The detective instantly attributed Dashwood's absence to an alarming discovery made while examining the books and accounts of the firm. Perhaps he had gone home. In a saloon below, next door to the entrance, was a phone. Nick used it to call up Gabriel Leonard's residence. The housekeeper answered. Neither Mr. Dashwood nor Mr. Leonard was at home. Didn't know where either might be found. Had Mr. Carter gone out to the fair-grounds?

Nick left the phone troubled in mind. Leonard's absence from home was indication that business of pressing importance had demanded his attention, for his rule, so the detective had been informed by Dashwood, was to remain at home every evening. He cared nothing for

[11]

 theaters or social divertisements, belonged to no club or secret order. The business of each day over, he betook himself to his suburban residence, there to find comfort and rest in his pipe and newspapers.

Nick went up to the counter and engaged in conversation with the barkeeper.

"How's business this evening?"

"Rotten. Everybody is at the fair."

"Gives you opportunity to get a breath of fresh air as compensation, though."

"Yes, that's so. I stood at the door from eight until eight-forty-five without a break."

"Studying the people who passed?"

"In a way."

"All sorts and conditions in town during the fair. Good chance for a novelist to make copy."

"That's right. Now, I saw something to-night that might give one of these fiction fellows a cue. A fact here and there is all they want. Imagination does the rest."

"What did you see, if it is a fair question?"

"I saw a woman act in two scenes."

"Monologue?"

"No, she had company, but she was the star. Great woman that. I know her name, but I've never spoken to her. Wish I did know her. I'd ask her what her little play to-night might mean."

"Say," said Nick, with an eagerness that was not assumed, but which was purposely allowed vent, "you are

[12]

 exciting my curiosity. What was her play? But first let's smoke, unless you prefer liquid refreshment."

"No, a cigar suits me."

After each man had lighted his weed, the barkeeper began his story:

"I had been at the door not more than five minutes when my lady comes up and starts for the elevator. Her lips were shut tight, and she looked as if she had it in for some one and was going to call for a settlement. She was gone about three minutes, and then reappeared, in company with Luke Filbon, the bookkeeper and cashier of the manufacturing company. Filbon, who is a young geezer with not enough sense to last him overnight, appeared to be dippy with fright. They did not see me, for I was standing off the sidewalk, and so I got the full benefit of the scene without putting up a bean. The way that woman's tongue lashed young Filbon was a caution to sinners. 'You shouldn't have waited so long,' she said. 'You should have taken it out when you left the office this afternoon. You are a poor, weak, pitiful fool. I want nothing more to do with you. If I had not more spunk than you have I'd cut my throat. Go. You've ruined everything. You have destroyed my chance, and you have destroyed your own. You're fit for nothing but to wear stripes. Get out of my sight.'

"'I'll go home, get my revolver, and blow out my brains, that's what I'll do,' Filbon said. 'I thought you loved me, but it was the money you wanted, not me.'

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"'I wanted both, you fool,' she retorted. 'But go. I don't care to talk further with you. I have no use for such timid cattle.'

"'You will be sorry when you read the papers to-morrow morning,' he said, and then away he went, leaving her standing on the sidewalk just outside the entrance to the elevator. For a few minutes she stood there. Then I heard her say: 'It's risky, but it has got to be done, for that old fool may, after all, fail to come to time.' Bad habit that, talking to oneself, but I reckon she was so worked up that she didn't realize what she was saying. I don't know, of course, what she had made up her mind to do, and maybe she had no chance to carry it out, for just at that moment the elevator descended—it seemed the cage was at one of the upper floors all this time—and John Dashwood came out. The woman spoke to him first. I heard her plainly. 'You had better look after Luke Filbon,' she said, 'for he's liable to make a fool of himself to-night.'

"'Where is he?' Dashwood asked sharply.

"'Gone home,' she said.

"Dashwood thanked her, and then went down the street aways and took a car, the car that goes to Broadway. The woman watched him get on the car, and then hurried around the corner."

The barkeeper paused.

"Is that all?" Nick asked.

"Not quite. Ten minutes passed, and a Laclede Avenue car stops at the corner and off gets Gabriel Leonard.

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 He comes to the elevator entrance and goes up in the cage. Five minutes goes by, and down he comes, muttering something about there being the devil to pay. Off he goes on a car bound for Broadway. Gone to see Filbon."

"What makes you think so?"

"I am a deducer," answered the barkeeper, with a knowing air. "Luke Filbon lives on one of the little streets west of Broadway, near the southern limits of the city. The Broadway car lands within a couple of blocks of his home. That's where Dashwood went to-night, and it's ten to one that Leonard followed him."

There was a city directory in the saloon, and when Nick had found Filbon's address, he said quickly: "Your story has interested me. I think I will go out there myself. I know both Dashwood and Leonard, and I am curious to learn what is at the bottom of to-night's business. Now, as to the woman. You said you know her name. What is it?"

"Madam Ree. She is a palmist, who has recently opened a joint on Chestnut Street."

Madam Ree! Nick drew a deep breath. Madam Ree was the assumed name of Cora Reesey, who, as the accomplice of James Dorrant, had figured so conspicuously in a San Francisco case which, a short while before, had occupied the attention and had exhibited the wonderful skill of the great detective.[A]

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This woman, handsome, fascinating, unscrupulous, with wits sharpened by the contest with Nick Carter, whose bitter enemy she had announced herself to be, because she had been thwarted in her attempt to win a fortune in diamonds, was now in St. Louis and mixed up in a mysterious affair in which Nick's friend, John Dashwood, was in some way connected. What did it all mean?

GENRE
Crime & Thrillers
RELEASED
2020
9 March
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
121
Pages
PUBLISHER
Rectory Print
SIZE
8
MB

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