The Missing Corner
| Blythe and I had agreed that Bothwell would
not let us get away without first making an effort to get hold of the original map of
Doubloon Spit. He was nobody's fool, and there was no doubt but he had very soon
detected the trick his cousin had played upon him.
Since the chart was in a safety deposit vault we felt pretty sure of ourselves, for he would have to secure it between the time we took it out and our arrival on the Argos, at best a spare half hour in the middle of the day. But since the captain did not know what we had done with the document, it was a good guess that he would have a try at searching for it.
On the evening of the third day before we were due to sail, Blythe and I took Miss Berry and her niece to the opera and afterward to a little supper at a cozy French restaurant just round the corner from the Chronicle Building.
It was well past midnight when we reached the hotel where the ladies had their rooms. Miss Wallace had no sooner flung open the door than she gave an exclamation of amazement.
The room had been fairly turned upside down. Drawers had been emptied, searched, and their contents dumped down in one corner. Rugs had been torn up. Even the upholstery of chairs and the lounge had been ripped. The inner room was in the same condition. A thorough, systematic examination had been made of every square inch of the apartment. It had been carried so far that the linings of gowns had been cut away and the trimming of hats plucked off.
"A burglar!" gasped Miss Berry.
"Let's give him a name. Will Captain Boris Bothwell do?" I asked of Blythe.
The Englishman nodded.
"You've rung the bell at the first shot, Sedgwick."
"Oh, I don't think it," Miss Berry protested. "Captain Bothwell is too much of a gentleman to destroy a lady's things wantonly. Just look at this hat!"
Evelyn laughed at her wail. It happened not to be her hat.
"It's dear Boris, all right. I wonder if he left his card?"
Shall we call in the police?" her aunt asked.
Miss Wallace questioned me with her eyes.
"Might s well," I assented. "Not that it will make a bit of difference, but it will satisfy the hotel people. Probably it would be as well not to mention our suspicions."
So we had the police in. They talked and took notes and asked questions, and at last went away with the omniscient air peculiar to officers of the law the world over. They had decided it was the work of Nifty Jim, a notorious diamond thief at that time honoring San Francisco with his presence.
Over a cigar in my rooms Blythe and I talked the matter out. Bothwell had made the first move. Soon he would make another, for of course he would search my place at the Graymount. The question was whether to keep the rooms guarded or to let him have a clear field. We decided on the latter.
"How far will the man go? That's the question." My friend looked at his cigar tip speculatively. "Will he have you knocked on the head to see if you are carrying it?"
"He will if he can," I told him promptly. "But I'm taking no chances. I carry a revolver."
"Did you happen to notice that we were followed tonight?"
"That's nothing new. They've been dogging me ever since I got the map. But I play a pretty careful game."
"I would," Blythe agreed gravely. "I say. Let me stay with you here till we get off. Better be sure than sorry."
"Glad to have you, though I don't think it's necessary."
It may have been five minutes later that I suddenly sat bolt upright in my chair. An idea had popped into my head, one so bold that it might have been borrowed from Bothwell's lawless brain.
"I say. Let's play this out with Captain Boris his own way. Let's just remind him we're on earth too."
My eyes danced.
"I'm as good a burglar as he is, and so are you."
"He doesn't give a tinker's dam for the law," I continued. "Good enough! We'll take a leaf out of his book. Tomorrow night you have an engagementto ransack the captain's rooms."
"To get that corner of a map he stole from his cousin. Part of the directions for finding the treasure are on it."
"But Miss Wallace has another copy."
"An inaccurate one. Her father changed the directions on purpose in case someone found it."
Blythe smoked for a minute without answering.
"You're a devilish cool hand, Sedgwick. I'm a law-abiding citizen myself."
"And so am Iwhen the other fellow will let me. But if a chap hits me on the head with a bit of scantling I'll not stop to look for a policeman."
"Just so. I was about to say that since I'm a law-abiding citizen it's my duty to take from Bothwell the goods he has stolen. I'm with you to search his rooms for that paper."
Underneath his British phlegm I could see that he was as keen on the thing as Jack Sedgwick. Looking back on it from this distance, it seems odd that two reputable citizens should have adventured into housebreaking so gaily as we did.
But Bothwell had brought it on himself, and both of use were eager to show him he had some one more formidable than a young woman to deal with. Moreover, there is something about the very name of buried treasure that knocks the pins of respectability from under a man.
Up to date I had led the normal life of a super-civilized city dweller, but within a fortnight I was to shoot a man down and count it just part of the day's work. None of us knows how strong the savage is in us until we are brought up against life in the raw.
My trailers followed me about next day as usual, but I chuckled whenever I saw them. For we were doing a little sleuthing ourselves. I borrowed Jimmie from the firm and the little gamin kept tab on Bothwell.
The captain did not leave his room until nearly midday, but as soon as he had turned the corner next to his hotel, the Argonaut, on the way to his breakfast-lunch, Jimmie dodged in at the side entrance, slipped up the stairs and along a corridor, up a second and a third flight by the back way, down another passage, and stopped at a room numbered 417.
With him he had a great bunch of keys similar to those used in that hotel. One after another he tried these, stopping whenever he heard approaching footsteps to hide the keys under his coat. Several persons passed, but found nothing unusual in the sight of a boy knocking innocently on a door.
At last Jimmie found a key which turned in the socket. That was all he wanted. Relocking the door he went down the stairs to the street, his fingers tightly clenched around the key that fitted. Nor did he take the little closed fist out of his coat pocket until he and I were alone together in my office, from whence he departed two dollars richer than he had entered.
Jimmie having been retired from duty, Blythe took his place in watching Bothwell. He engaged a room on the fourth floor of the Argonaut, from which he was able to observe the coming and going of the enemy.
My work at the office finished, I took a car from the Graymount, followed as usual by one of the detectives that for days had dogged me. My attendant on this occasion was a shrimp of a man with a very wrinkled face and a shock of red hair. Some imp of deviltry in me moved me to change my seat for one beside his.
"A pleasant day," I suggested to pen the conversation.
He agreed that it was.
"I suppose your kind of work is always more cheerful in good weather," I went on.
"My kind of work!" Plainly he was disconcerted at my remark.
"Yes. Must be devilish unpleasant shadowing a man in cold weather. Don't you have to wait outside houses sometimes for hours at a stretch?"
The palm of his hand rasped a stubbly chin as he looked askance at me.
"WhyerI don't know what you mean."
"Don't you?" I laughed in his face. "Come now, let's put aside the little fiction that I'm not wise to your game. I'm not at all annoyed at the attentions you pay me. It's entirely a mater of business with you. I suppose I'm good for about five dollars a day to you. Faith, that's more than I've ever been able to earn for myself. Sorry I'm leaving these parts soonon your account."
He did not at all know how to take me, but he earnestly assured me that I was quite mistaken. He was a carpenter by trade.
"Why not make it as easy for you as we can?" I chuckled. "Come in to the Graymount and have dinner with me. Our café isn't what it should be, but it will pass at a pinch. What do you say?"
He said that I was making game of him.
"Not at all," I assured him. "I'm merely trying to lighten the load of honest labor. Well, if you won't, you won't. After dinner I'm going to my rooms to smoke a cigar. About nineor somewhere near that timeI'll be going out for an hour. Are your instructions to follow me?"
"You're all wrong about me, sir. I don't know any more than a rabbit what you are talking about."
"I was only going to say that if you care to go I'll try to arrange for another place at our little party."
He was, I judged, glad to get rid of me at my corner. It had been his instruction to leave the car there too, no doubt, but my discovery of him drove the little man one block farther. I waited till he got off and waved a hand at him before I walked to the Graymount. For me it had been a very entertaining little adventure, but I am inclined to think he found it embarrassing.
The program of my movements which I had given him was accurate enough. Dinner finished, I went to my room for a cigar, after which I called up a taxi.
I selected an ulster with a deep collar, and in the right hand pocket I dropped a revolver, but not before I had carefully examined the weapon.
As I stepped into the taxi the vest-pocket edition of Nick Carter with whom I had ridden up from the city a few hours earlier darted out from the alley where he had been lurking. Again I waved a hand derisively toward him. The chauffeur threw in the clutch and we moved swiftly down the hill. The little sleuth wheeled off in the direction of the nearest drug store.
"He's going to call up Bothwell to tell him I've gone," was my guess.
For perhaps a quarter of an hour I had the chauffeur drive me about the city, now fast, now slow, crossing and recrossing our track half a dozen times. When I was finally convinced that no other care was following mine I paid the driver and dismissed him.
Catching the nearest street car I rode down to Market Street. It was a cool night, so that I was justified in turning up my coat collar in such a way as to conceal partially my face.
Inconspicuously I stepped into the Argonaut and up the stairs to Blythe's room.
Sam met me at the door and nodded in the direction of No. 417.
"He went out half an hour ago."
"I'll bet he got a telephone message from little Nick Carter first," I grinned.
Three minutes later we were in Bothwell's room. Since it was probable that he was making himself at home in mine it seemed only fair that we should do as much in his.
We did. If there was a nook or corner within those four walls we did not examine I do not know where it could have been. Every drawer was opened and searched for secret places. Bedposts, legs of chairs and tables, all the woodwork, had to undergo a microscopic scrutiny. The walls were sounded for cavities. We probed the cushions with long fine needles and tore the spreads from the beds. The carpet and the floor underneath were gone over thoroughly. Blythe even took the frame of the mirror to pieces to make sure that the shred of paper we wanted did not lie between the glass and the boards behind.
At last I found our precious document. It was in the wastepaper basket among some old bills, a torn letter, some half smoked cigarettes, and a twisted copy of that afternoon's Call. Bothwell had thrust it down among this junk because he shrewdly guessed a wastepaper basket the last place one would likely look for a valuable chart.
To derive him of it seemed a pity, so we merely made a copy of what we wanted and left him the original buried again in the junk where he had hidden it.
My watch showed that it was now between one and two o'clock. Since Bothwell might now be back at any time we retired to Blythe's room and learned by heart the torn fragment of directions.
This did not take us long for there was nothing on the faded corner but these letters and words:
milkman hours we slipped from the hotel and took a car for the Graymount. My rooms
were a sight. Some oneand I could put a name to himhad devastated them
as a cyclone does a town in the middle West. The wreckage lay everywhere, tossed
hither and thither as the searchers had flung away the articles after an
examination. Blythe laughed.