Johnston McCulley.

The Black Star : a detective story online

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diamonds. There is a new shipment in the city
that exceeds in value even your famous necklace,
Mr. Verbeck. The general public does not know
of this shipment, which has just been received.
But, having ways of finding out things, I do
know of it.

'To-night I raid the vault of Jones & Co.,
diamond importers, on the second floor of the
National Building.

«:|e 9tc 9tc a|e afcM

With a roar that could have been heard half a
block, Detective Riley sprang through the door and
toward the head of the stairs, Muggs and Rc^er
Verbeck at his heels.

Four steps at a time they took the two flights, and
burst into the living room like madmen, startling the
officers there.

"Quick!'' Riley cried to the sergeant. "Call head-
quarters, private line! Tell them to surround block
of National Building. Black Star's raiding Jones &

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Co.! You, Muggsl Start the car! Ready, Ver-

The sergeant whirled toward them.

"Phone's dead! Wires cut, I suppose!" he re-

"Of course! Trust the Black Star not to forget
that! Get the nearest phone, sergeant — probably one
across street!"

He dashed out, following Verbeck. They sprang
into the roadster. Muggs sent the machine shooting
at the big gate, through it, iitto the broad boulevard,
sounding his horn like a maniac, jumping the power-
ful engine into its greatest speed.

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VERBECK and Muggs had taken many wild rides
in the big roadster, but nothing that compared
to this. On the boulevard, the street cleaners had
removed most of the snow, but the slush had frozen,
and the going was treacherous. The car skidded from
side to side, at times almost turned end for end,
lurched and swayed sickeningly.

Detective Riley gritted his teeth and clung to one
end of the seat in which Verbeck crouched. Muggs
bent forward, squinting his eyes and trying to get a
clear view ahead. They turned comers and swept
around curves at dangerous speed, sprang down hills
as if the car was some wild thing running for life
from a hereditary foe.

It was half past two o'clock in the morning, and
few vehicles were abroad, a fact for which Muggs
gave devout thanks. They reached the edge of the
business district, yet he did not slacken the car's
speed. Detective Riley had said no word since the
start — now he was the sleuth on the trail, the officer
of the law ready to try conclusions with the criminal.
Neither did Roger Verbeck speak, not even to shriek
orders to Muggs, for Muggs did not need orders, and

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Verbeck was thinking of the humiliation in store for
him unless the master criminal was caught.

Muggs dodged an owl car by less than a foot, and
took a corner on two wheels. Riley would have been
dashed from the machine had not Verbeck flung an
arm around him. Down another hill they raced, and
into a cross street, where the heavy traffic of the day
had obliterated the most of the slush, and the going
was safer.

They were within a few blocks of their destination
now. Verbeck and Riley were both wondering if the
sergeant had been able to get to another telephone and
notify headquarters. The Black Star might have a
chance of escape if the block was not surrounded.

And they were not certain that he had not com-
mitted his theft and escaped already. He had had
plenty of time while they were following the dicta-
graph wire, especially since it was certain his plans
had been made carefully. Would they arrive in time
to find him at work? Or, would they find the door
of the vault open and a fortune in jewels gone?''

Riley bent over and screeched in Muggs' ear :

"Stop that horn! And stop the machine at the
corner this way!"

Muggs nodded that he understood. He drove
around another corner, and swung the roadster to a
stop. Riley sprang to the walk, Verbeck and Muggs
following closely. They hurried around the corner
and to the entrance of the big building.

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Automatics and electric torches were held ready
now. There was no watchman in the entrance, and
tliey started to creep up the stairs to the second floor.
And there, at the top of the marble steps, just in front
of the heavy glass doors that opened into the estab-
lishment of Jones & Co., they found the watchman.

He was stretched on the floor, bound and gagged
and with a black star on his forehead Riley mo-
tioned for silence, and relieved the watchman of gag
and ropes.

"He slipped up on me," the man whispered. "He's
inside now."

"Only one?"

"Just one man!" the watchman whispered. "He
tapped me on the head and had me gagged before I
knew what was happening. Then he bound me. Fm
sure there was only one man. He unlocked the door
with a key."

"How long ago?"

"Half an hour or more."

"Then he's gone out some other way," Riley whis-
pered to the others. "He wouldn't stay in there that
long. What's the matter with headquarters, I won-
der? I don't hear any siren. Here, you, watchman,
go down and tell the men, when they come, to sur-
round the block, and send a few in here. We'll go
on in."

The watchman tottered to the top of the stairs and

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started down. Riley drew Vcrbeck and Muggs close
to him.

"No lights until we're sure where we stand/' he
instructed. "He may be ready to shoot, if he's still
in there, and a light furnishes a swell target. There'll
be a faint light inside, reflected from the stairs. I
know this place. This is the only entrance except
a freight elevator at the rear. There are windows, of
course, that open into the court. Fm afraid he's
gone that way! Ready? Come on, then, and keep
your eyes open!"

Inch by inch Riley swung the glass door open, so
as not to make any sound. Inch by inch they crept
inside and closed the door again. Here the aisles
were covered with thick carpets. An uncertain light
came through the door and made the interior of the
gem store a mass of shadows.

Before them was the general retail salesroom, with
its rows of counters and show cases on either side,
and its divans and chairs in the center. Slowly, care-
fully, holding weapons and torches ready, they crept
from shadow to shadow, scarcely daring to breathe,
fearing they would make a sound.

They soon were convinced nobody was in the sales-
room. They came to the partition in the rear, and
found the door partly open. Here they redoubled
their caution. If the Black Star was present he was
somewhere behind that partition.

Riley opened the door carefully, and they stepped

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inside. Here they found a dim light, too, coming in
from the street Here were taUes where diamonds
were displayed to purchasing merchants, sets of mir-
rors so an employee could see the entire interior at
a glance, and, at the opposite end of the room, the
door to the great vault of Jones & Co. — the vault that
held always a fortune in jewels and was supposed to
be impregnable.

They crouched — and looked. Verbeck drew in his
breath sharply.

The door of the vault stood open.

In it, his back toward them, gloating over a hand-
ful of jewels, was — ^the Black Star!

As they watched, they heard him chuckle softly,
saw him throw up his head — and walk into the vault!

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\ /ERBECK'S whisper was so low that Riley and
^ Muggs scarcely could hear it, yet they ccrld de-
tect the note of exultation:

"We've got him!"

That was all, and then they started to creep for-
ward, their eyes on the vault, from which not a bit
of light came. The Back Star evidently was working
in the dark.

Foot by foot they made their way noiselessly to-
ward the open door, expecting every instant to see
their quarry step forth and confront them, ready to
prevent him fighting his way to liberty. They lis-
tened, too, for the sound of feet in the room behind
them that would tell of the arrival of the police, but
the sound of feet did not come.

And now, at last, they were within six feet of the
open door, staring into the blackness of the vault,
from which came not the slightest sound. Verbeck
felt his heart pounding at his ribs like a trip hammer
as they waited. The seconds passed.

Then Riley spoke in a low, tense tone, yet his voice
seemed to roar through the place :

"Come out, Mr. Black Star! We've got you!"

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Silence their answer!

'*Come out! Why delay the game?"

Still no answer. Riley reached out and touched
Verbeck, touched Muggs, a voiceless command for
action. They crept forward again, Verbeck to one
side, Muggs on the other, Riley directly before the
door. Now they were in the shadows, and between
them and the door was but a faint streak of light
that came through the windows from the street — a
streak of light they would have to cross to reach the
vault door.

What would happen when they crossed that streak
of light? Riley imagined he knew. Verbeck felt
sure that he knew. Muggs already imagined he heard
the cracking of an automatic, grunts of pain, faced
the whirlwind charge of a desperate, cornered man,
fighting his way to freedom.

''Come out!'* Riley commanded again. "Come — or
well come in after you!"

Still no answer. Riley crouched and held the torch
high above his head in his left hand, ready to touch
the button and send a shaft of light into the vault.
In his right hand he held the automatic, safety catch
oflF, ready to fire on the instant.

He touched the button.

Light shot through the blackness and illuminated a
pathway through the vault door and to the interior.
From side to side Riley swung his light, expecting
every instant to hear the shot he anticipated. There

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was no man in the light's path, but it did not penetrate
to the comers.

Riley expelled his breath in a great gasp of deter-
mination, and slipped forward. Verbeck and Muggs
closed in. If the Black Star was waiting for them
to rush, then the moment for the rush had arrived.

Muggs could endure the suspense no longer. His
nerves were on edge. He gave a subdued squeal and
sprang across the path of light, grasped the door,
hurled it shut, twisted the handle.

"We've got him — got him!" he screeched.

Riley's light showed the perspiration standing out
on his forehead in great globules.

"Why did you do that ?" the detective demanded.

"We've got him! Turn on the lights! The police
will be here in a minute, then he'll have no chance
to escape !"

Riley would have had it otherwise, and Roger Ver-
beck had anticipated having the Black Star in shackles
by the time the police arrived, but that could not be
helped now. Riley went around the room until he
found the electric switch; he threw it, and the room
was suddenly brilliant with light.

"Well, we've got him, anyway,'* Verbeck said.
"The Black Star may be able to get into a vault, but
I'll defy him to get out of that one except by the

"Yes, and he'll be dead before he gets out that

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way, if some one who can open that vault doesn't
come soon. Where's a telephone?"

He saw one in a corner, and rushed toward it and
gave the private number.

'That you, chief?" he asked. "This is Riley?
Have you sent men? What's that — ^just started?

Great Scott He did, eh? Say, chief, have the

desk sergeant telephone to the manager of Jones & Co.
to hurry down here. We've got the Black Star locked
;n the vault, and have to get it unlocked. Yes — sure !"

He hung up the receiver and turned to the others.

"Men on the way," he said. "The chief s^ys he
just got the telephone message. Says the sergeant
said he tried three phones near your place, and all
of them had wires cut. Pretty smooth article, that
Black Star — ^but we've got him! There they come

From the distance came the sound of a siren, the
clanging of a patrol- wagon bell. Then the pounding
feet on the marble stairs, loud commands, and men
rushed into the establishment of Jones & Co.

"We've got him!" Riley exulted. "Caught him at
it! Locked him in the vault! And now we'll stand
around until the manager gets here and works the
combination. He played a smooth game, all right —
ask Mr. Verbeck about it. But we got him ! I reckon
he's mighty sorry now that he stayed in town to make
a fool out of Mr. Verbeck."

They waited, crowding about the place, talking ex-

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citedly in whispers, debating whether the Black Star
would put up a fight when the door was opened,
whether he'd commit suicide and cheat the law, now
that he was cornered.

Then the chief came beaming, dreaming of the vin-
dication of his department the newspapers would have
to grant. He grasped Verbeck by the hand warmly,
patted Muggs on the back, congratulated Detective

"I didn't tip off the reporters this time," he said.
"Too late for 'em, anyway. They'll get it in the noon
editions to-day, though. Laugh at the police depart-
ment, will they? Not after this!"

And then the manager of Jones & Co. arrived, a
gentleman the personification of dignity generally, but
at present the personification of excitement and dread.
He stammered when he talked, and threw up his
hands in horror when he saw his establishment
crowded with police, and it took the chief some min-
utes to assure him that his property was safe and the
would-be thief locked in the vault.

He advanced to the door and prepared to work
the combination. His nervousness caused him to
make a mistake at first, but finally he nodded that all
that was necessary to open the door was to turn the

The manager retreated then, to hide behind a show
case in fear of flying bullets.

"Might as well come out, Mr. Black Star, and take

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your medicine 1'' Hiley cried "We've got twenty men
here, with guns pointing at that door. You make a
hostile move when we open it, and you'll see your
finish r

He nodded to the police, twisted the handle, and
threw the door open.

Light flooded the interior of the vault. Half a
doeen officers, Riley at their head, rushed.

A cry of consternation came from the detective.
Verbeck and Muggs crowded through to k)ok inside.

On the floor of the vault were empty trays that
had held jewels. Among them were empty chamois
bags. Mountings of inferior value were scattered
about. But no master criminal stood before them,
ready for battle, or in token of surrender !

*'Gone!" Muggs cried.

"But he can't be gone!" Riley shrieked. "We saw
him step into the vault! We came right up, never
taking our eyes from the door! Muggs slammed the
door and twisted the combination. There's no way
in or out except the door !"

"Gone!" Verbeck echoed.

The chief of police swore. The manager of Jones
& G>,, who had left his place of safety, tore his hair
and lamented his loss and berated the police.

"He — ^he can't be gone!" Riley reiterated.

Verbeck, his heart sinking, stepped inside and looked
around. Fastened in the corner of one of the trays
was what he had feared he would find — a letter written

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by the Black Star and addressed to himself. He read
it swiftly, then handed it to the chief, and threw wide
his hands in a gesture of momentary despair.
And this is what he had read :

Mr. Verbeck and Aids: I am leaving this
because I assume you'll find my other note at the
house and f oBow me here. I dare say that, when
you entered you saw me standing before the open
door of the vault. You watched, and saw me
enter the vault. Did you not? You did not!
Your eyes deceived yout I intend waiting here
until you arrive, to add one more small bit to my
evening's entertainment.

Illusion, my dear Mr. Verbeck — ^all illusion.
The dim light coming in frmn the street, you
know, helps some. You will notice that there
are many mirrors scattered around the room.
I took the liberty of moving a few of them
to serve my purpose. Go back to the door at
which you entered and look at the vault. Have
your silly Muggs stand ten feet to the right of
the door to the room. Now lock at the vault,
Mr. Verbeck, and it will appear that the silly
Muggs is standing in the vault door. You fol-
low? Simple, old-fashioned mirror illusion that
won't even go at country fairs any more. And
you fell for that!

For, when you enter the room, I shall be stand-

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ing within ten feet of you, and you'll imagine
you see me in the vault door, and creep forward.
I'll take two steps to the right, and you'll think
I have entered the vault. You'll advance toward
it, and I'll step outside quietly to the window that
opens on the court, let myself down a rope al-
ready prepared, and be on my way — ^with this
excellent collection of diamonds. All thought out
beforehand, you see!

I have made you a laughingstock, as I prom-
ised, but I am not done with you yet. I defy
you again, Roger Verbeck, as I defy the police.
You'll hear from me soon.

♦ * * * ♦

They snapped out the lights and tried it — Muggs
standing where the Black Star had said — ^and found
it was so.

They went to the court and found an open window
from which a rope dangled to the ground floor below.

Then they placed a guard and went out, leaving
the manager to estimate and bemoan his loss.

"He's a devil — a devil!" the chief was muttering.

"He's human — ^and we'll get him yet !" Roger Ver-
beck answered, and the fighting look was in his face
when he spoke. -^

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ROGER VERBECK'S powerful, four-seated road-
ster, its curtains up against the fine drizzle Ibi
rain, and with Muggs at the wheel, drew up wht^n
the traffic policeman raised a warning hand, and waited
for the cross-town stream of vehicles and pedestrians
to pass.

It was eight o'clock in the evening, and the streets
were thronged. Crowds were hurrying toward the
theaters; more crowds were making for a big auto-
mobile show, and others were hastening toward a large
hall, where there was to be a mass meeting, at which
infuriated speakers would demand that the police de-
partment of the city capture instantly the Black Star,
the notorious master criminal, who, with his band of
clever crooks, had terrorized the city for half a year.

Verbeck's car was of foreign make and of peculiar
appearance, and it was natural that it should be rec-
ognized. Muggs bent over the wheel and gritted his
teeth as he heard the expressions passed by pedestrians,
and the young man beside him looked straight ahead
as if seeing nothing and hearing nothing.

"When you goin' to get the Black Star?"

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"What's Black Star payin' you to hold off, Ver-

"That crook's too much for you, ain't he?"
"Well, well — so he hasn't caught you again?"
Those were samples of the remarks being passed,
and they made Muggs want to get from the roadster
and fight his way into the midst of the mob. Muggs
knew better than any one else how Verbeck, since
the memoraWe day when the Black Star had dared the
young millionaire to capture him, had tried every
means in his power to get hands on the master crim-

The Black Star had written again to Roger Ver-
beck, raying that he and his man Muggs would be
abducted by the Black Star's men, taken to the master
crook's new headquarters, ior which they had been
searching in vain, and from there taken to the scei^
of a big crime. They would be forced to stand by
under guard and watch the crime committed, and
then they would be treated to shots from the vapor
gun the Black Star and his men used, and left un-
conscious on the spot — ^laughingstocks for the public.
That letter had been sent to the newspapers three
weeks before, and as yet the Black Star had not ab-
ducted Roger Verbeck and Muggs. The criminal, in
another letter to the papers, insisted that this was not
because he had not had an opportunity to effect the
abduction, but because preparations had not been ccmi-
pleted for the next big crime.

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So now, as Verbeck's roadster waited at the
corner, those who recognized the car and its occupants
enjoyed a few moments of sarcastic abuse. It was
nothing to the general public that Verbeck had spent
time and money in an effort to capture the master
criminal after the police had failed, that he had risked
his life half a score of times, and once even had been
accused of belonging to the Black Star's band himself.

The unthinking public looked only at results — ^and
there had been none. Muggs and Verbeck and the
few thinkers in the city knew well that, if the Black
Star was caught, these thoughtless cmes would be the
first to praise Verbeck loudly; but in the meantime
the sarcasm was highly unpleasant

After a time the traffic cop turned and raised a
hand, and Muggs growled again and threw in the
clutch and piloted the heavy car across the street and
down the broad avenue. They were out of the con-
gested district within a few minutes, and speeding
along a boulevard that led to a section of the city
where large and modem apartment houses were to
be found.

Half a block behind Verbeck's roadster a man
trailed on a motor cycle, seemingly paying no attention
to the car ahead, but in reality keeping close watch
on it. A short distance behind the motcM* cycle trailed
a runabout with one man in it. The runabout was a
small car, but a mechanician could have told after a
second glance that it was a powerful one. The man

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in the runabout was watching both the motor cycle
and Verbeck's car.

A short distance behind the runabout was a light-
weight truck. Behind the wheel of the truck was d.
young man, who appeared eager to get home after
an overtime delay in making deliveries. He wore
greasy overalls and jumper, and a slouch hat pulled
well down over his eyes. The collar of the jumper
was turned up to keep out the drizzle.

Thus the procession moved along the broad boule-
vard, and, after a time, Verbeck's roadster drew up
at the curb in front of an imposing apartment house.
Muggs remained behind the wheel, but the man he
had been driving got out and hurried into the build-
ing. It was natural that he did so, for on the ground
floor lived his fiancee. The threat of abduction, it
appeared, did not keep Roger Verbeck from paying
his customary visits to his sweetheart.

The man on the motor cycle pulled in at the curb
on the opposite side of the street, dismounted, and
appeared to be tinkering with his machine. The run-
about passed him, and its driver bent out and spoke a
few words as it passed, the motor cyclist nodding in
reply. Then the runabout went around the next cor-
ner, where it stopped, its driver getting out and walk-
ing slowly back up the boulevard, like a belated laborer
on his way home.

The light truck did not pass Verbeck*s car. It
turned into an alley and pulled up behind a garage

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there. Its driver got out and walked quickly back to
the mouth of the alley, and there he peered around
the comer of a high fence and down the boulevard.
He noticed that the motor cyclist had left his machine
and crossed the street and was approaching Verbeck's
roadster. He saw the man who had been driving the
runabout walking slowly from the other direction.

The driver of the truck chuckled lightly to himself
and remained at the mouth of the alley in the shadows,

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MUGGS, crouched down behind the wheel, watched
the fine rain beat against the wind shield of the
roadster, and hoped he would not have to remain in

that position of inaction for long.

He observed a man approaching along the sidewalk,
a man who glanced at the apartment houses as if
seeking a certain one. Directly opposite the roadster
this man stopped, looked around for an instant, and
then hurried over to Muggs.

"Know where the Albemarle Apartments might
be?" he asked.

"They might be almost any place, but I've got an
idea you'll find them in the middle of the next block,"
Muggs replied. "It's a big, white, brick building."

"Thanks," the other growled.

He turned away — and as quickly turned back again.

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Online LibraryJohnston McCulleyThe Black Star : a detective story → online text (page 11 of 16)