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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Net - Chapter 11. The Kidnapping
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The Net - Chapter 11. The Kidnapping Post by :sullc Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :693

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The Net - Chapter 11. The Kidnapping

CHAPTER XI. THE KIDNAPPING

Bernie Dreux appeared at Blake's office on the following afternoon with a sour look upon his face. Norvin had known he would come, but hardly expected Myra Nell to win her victory so easily. Without waiting for the little man to speak, he began:

"I know what you're here for and I know just what you're going to tell me, so proceed; run me through with your reproaches; I offer no resistance."

"Do you think you acted very decently?" Dreux inquired.

"My dear Bernie, a crown was at stake."

"A crown of thorns for me. It means bankruptcy."

"Then you have consented? Good! I knew you would."

"Of course you knew I would; that's what makes your trick so abominable. I didn't think it of you."

"That's because you don't know my depravity; few people do."

"It would serve you right if I accepted your loan and never paid you back."

"It would indeed." Blake laughingly laid his hand upon his friend's shoulder. "What's more, that is exactly what I would do in your place. I'd borrow all I could and give my sister her one supreme hour, free from all disturbing fears and embarrassments; then I'd tell the impertinent meddler who was to blame for my trouble to go whistle for his satisfaction. Of course Miss Myra Nell doesn't suspect?"

"Oh, Heaven forbid!" piously exclaimed Dreuix.

"Now how much will you need?"

"I don't know; some fabulous sum. There will be gowns, and luncheons, and carriages, and entertaining. I will have to figure it out."

"Do. Then double it. And thanks awfully for coming to your senses."

"That's just the point--I haven't come to them, I'm perfectly insane to consider it," Bernie declared, savagely. "But what can I do when she looks at me with her eyes like stars and--and--" He waved his hands hopelessly. "It's mighty decent of you, but understand I consider it a dastardly trick and I'm horribly offended."

"Exactly, and I don't blame you, but your sister deserves a crown for her royal gift of youth and sweetness. As for being offended, since you are not one of the Mafia, I am not afraid."

"Do you know," said Bernie, "I have been thinking about this Mafia matter ever since I saw you. I'm tremendously interested and I--I'm beginning to feel the dawning of a civic spirit. Remarkable, eh? You know I haven't many interests, and I'd like to--to take a hand in running down these miscreants. I've always had an ambition, ever since I was a child, to be a--Don't laugh now. This is a confession. I've always wanted to be a--detective." He looked very grave, and at the same time a little shamefaced. "Do you suppose Donnelly could make me one?"

"Well! This is rather startling," said Blake, with difficulty restraining a desire to laugh.

"I--I can wear disguises wonderfully well," Bernie went on, wistfully. "I learned when I was in college theatricals. I was really very good. And you see I might earn a lot of money that way; I understand there are tremendous rewards offered for train-robbers and that sort of people. No one need know, of course, and no one would ever suspect me of being a minion of the law."

"That's true enough. But I'm afraid detectives in real life don't wear false beards. It's a pretty mean occupation, I fancy. Do you seriously think you are--er--fitted for it?"

"Heavens! I'm no good at anything else, and I'm perfectly wonderful at worming secrets out of people. This Mafia matter would give me a great opportunity. I--think I'll try it."

"These Italians have no sense of humor, you know. Something disagreeable might happen if you went prowling around them."

"Oh, of course I'd quit if they discovered my intentions--my game. When we were talking of such things, the other day, I said I was a coward, but really I'm not. I've a frightful temper when I'm roused-- really fiendish. As a matter of fact, I've"--he smiled sheepishly and tapped his slender, high-arched foot with his rattan cane--"I've already begun."

Blake settled back in his chair without a word.

"I'm taking Italian lessons from Myra Nell's nurse, Miss Fabrizi. She's a very superior woman, for a nurse, and she knows all about the Mafia. Quite an inspiration, I call it, thinking of her. I'm working her for informa--for a clue." He winked one eye gravely, and Norvin gasped. Bernie suddenly seemed very secretive, very different from his usual self. It was the first time Blake had ever seen him give this particular facial demonstration, and the effect was much as if some benevolent old lady had winked brazenly.

"Well!" he exclaimed. "I don't know what to say."

"There is nothing to say," Mr. Dreux answered in a vastly self-satisfied tone. "I'm going to offer my services to Donnelly--in confidence, of course. I'm glad you introduced us, for otherwise I'd have to arrange to meet him properly. If he doesn't want me, I'll proceed unaided."

When his caller had gone Blake gave way to the hearty laughter he had been smothering, dwelling with keen enjoyment upon the probable result of Bernie's interview with the Chief. Dan, he was sure, would not hurt the little man's feelings, so he felt no obligation to interfere.

Although he was expecting to hear from Donnelly at any moment regarding the Narcone matter, it was not until two weeks after their nocturnal excursion to the Italian quarter that the Chief came to see him. He brought unexpected news.

"We've had a run of luck," he began. "I've verified the information in that letter and found that those extradition papers for Narcone are really in New York. What's more, there's an Italian detective there on another matter, and he's ready to take our man back to Sicily with him."

"Really!"

"Narcone, it seems, was in New York for a year before he came here; that's why steps were taken to extradite him. Then he evidently got suspicious and came South. Anyhow, the plank is all greased, and if we land him in that city he'll go back to Sicily."

"I see. All that's necessary is to invite him to run up there and be arrested. It seems to me you're just where you were two weeks ago, Dan; unfortunately, this doesn't happen to be New York, and you've still got to solve the important problem of getting him there."

"I'm going to kidnap him," said the Chief, quietly.

"What? You're joking!"

"Not a bit of it."

"But--kidnapping--it isn't done any more! It's not even considered the thing in police circles, I believe. You'll be stealing children next, like any Mafioso."

Donnelly grinned. "That's where I got the idea. This same Narcone is mixed up in the Domenchino case. The kid has been gone nearly a month, now, but the father won't help us. He made a roar at the start, but they evidently got to him and now he declares that the boy must have strayed away to the river-front and been drowned. Well, it occurred to me to treat that Quatrone gang to some of its own medicine by stealing their ringleader."

"There's poetic justice in the idea--that is, if Narcone was really connected with the disappearance of the child."

"Oh, he was connected with it all right. Ordinary blackmail was getting too slow for the outfit, so they went after a good ransom. Now that old Domenchino has kicked up such a row, they're afraid to come through, and have probably murdered the child. That's what he fears, at any rate, and that's why he won't help us."

"It's shocking! But tell me, is this plan your own, or did Bernie Dreux suggest it?"

Donnelly laughed silently.

"So you knew he'd turned fly cop? I thought I'd split when he came to me."

"I hope you didn't offend him."

"Oh, not at all. Those little milliners are mighty sensitive. I told him he had the makings of another Le Coq, but the force was full. I suggested that he work on the outside, and set him to watching a certain dago fruit-stand on Canal Street."

"Why that particular stand?"

"Because it's owned by one of our men and he can't come to any harm there. He reports every day."

"But Narcone--Are you really in earnest about this scheme?"

"I am. It's our only chance to land him, and I've got to accomplish something or quit drawing my salary. Here's the layout; the Pinkertons have an operative who knew Sabella in New York; they were friends, in fact. This fellow arrived here two hours ago--calls himself Corte. He's to renew his acquaintance with our man and explain that he is returning to New York in a week. The day he sails we grab Mr. Narcone, hustle him aboard ship, and Corte will see to the rest. If it works right nobody'll know anything about it until Narcone is at sea, when it will be too late for interference. It's old stuff, but it'll work."

From what he knew of the Sicilian bandit, Blake felt a certain doubt as to the practicability of this plan, yet he was relieved to learn that he would not be called upon to testify. He therefore expressed himself as gratified at the change of procedure.

"It was partly to spare you," the Chief replied, "that I decided on this course. I want you to help me though."

"In what way?"

"Well, it will naturally take some force; Narcone won't go willingly. I want you to help me take him."

Instantly those fears which had been lulled in Norvin's breast leaped into turmoil; the same sick surge of emotions rose, and he felt himself quailing. After an instant's pause he said:

"I'll act any part you cast me for, but don't you think it is work for trained officers like you and this Corte?"

"That's exactly the point. Narcone may put up a fight, and I have more confidence in you, when it comes to a pinch, than in any man I know. Corte's job is to get him down to the dock, and I can't ask any of my men to take a hand with me, for it's--well, not exactly regular. Besides, I may need a witness." Donnelly hesitated. "If I do need one, I'll want some man whose word will carry more weight than that of a policeman. You understand?" He leveled his blue eyes at Blake and they looked particularly smoky and cold.

"You mean the Quatrones may try to break you?"

"Something like that."

"Suppose Narcone--er--resists?"

Donnelly shrugged, "We can't very well kill him, That's what makes it hard. I knew you had as much at stake as I, so I felt sure you'd help."

Blake heard himself assuring the officer that he had not been mistaken, but it was not his own voice that reached his ears, and when his caller had gone he found himself sitting limply in his chair, numb with horror at his own temerity.

As he looked back upon it, blaming himself for his too ready agreement, he realized that several mingling emotions had been at the root of it. In the first place, he had said "yes" because his craven spirit had screamed "no" so loudly. He felt that the project was not only dangerous, but impracticable, yet something, which he chose to term his over-will, had warned him that he must not upon any account give way to fear lest he weaken his already insecure hold upon himself. Again, Donnelly had appealed to him in a way hard to resist. He was not only flattered by the Chief's high regard for his courage, but grateful to him for having relieved him of the notoriety and possible consequences of a public proceeding. Most of all, perhaps, his final acquiescence had been an instinctive reaction of rage and disgust at the part of his nature that he hated. He struck at it as a man strikes at a snake.

But now that he was irrevocably pledged, his reason broke and fled, leaving him a prey to his imagination.

What, he wondered, would Narcone do when he saw his life at stake-- when he recognized in one of his captors the man he had craved to kill in the forest of Terranova? There would in all probability be a physical struggle--perhaps he would find his own flabby muscles pitted against the mighty thews of the Sicilian butcher. At the thought he felt again the melting horror which had weakened him on that unspeakable night when Narcone had turned from wiping the warm blood from his hands to glare into his face. Blake feared that the memories would return to betray him at the last moment. That would mean that he would be left naked of the reputation he had guarded so jealously--and a far worse calamity--that his rebellious nature would finally triumph. One defeat, he knew, implied total overthrow.

He tried to reason that he was magnifying the danger--that Narcone would be easily handled, that other criminals as desperate had been taken without a struggle, but the instant such grains of comfort touched the healed terrors in his mind they vanished like drops of water sprinkled upon an incandescent furnace.

Nevertheless, he was pledged, and he knew that he would go.

He had barely gotten himself under a semblance of control, two days later, when Donnelly called him up by telephone to advise him in cautious terms that affairs were nearing a climax and to warn him to make ready.

This served to throw him into a renewed panic. It required a tremendous effort to concentrate upon his business affairs, and it took the genius of an actor to carry him through the inconsequent details of his every-day life without betrayal. Alone, at home, upon the crowded 'Change, in deadly-dull directors' meetings, that sinister shadow overhung him. These long, leaden hours of suspense were doing what nothing else had been able to do since he took himself definitely in hand. They were harder to bear than any of those disciplinary experiences which had turned his hair white and burned his youth to an ash.

At last Donnelly came.

"Corte has framed it for to-morrow," he announced with evident satisfaction.

"To-morrow?" Norvin echoed, faintly.

"Yes. He's sailing on the _Philadelphia at eleven o'clock--no stops between here and New York. They'll be waiting for Narcone at Quarantine." "I'm glad--it's time to do something."

Donnelly rubbed his palms together and showed his teeth in a smile, "Corte says he'll have him at the Cromwell Line docks without fail, so that will save us grabbing him on the street and holding him until sailing time. If we pull it off quietly, at the last minute, nobody'll know anything about it. You'd better be at my office by nine, in case anything goes wrong."

"You may count on me," Blake answered in a tone that gave no hint of his inward flinching. But once alone, he found that his nerves would not allow him to work. He closed his desk and went home. When the heat of the afternoon diminished he took out his saddle-horse and went for a gallop, thinking in this way to blow some of the tortured fancies out of his mind, but he did not succeed.

Despite his agitation, he ate a hearty dinner--much as a condemned man devours his last meal--but he could not sleep. All night he alternately tossed in his bed or paced his room restlessly, his features working, his body shivering.

He ate breakfast, however, with an apparent appetite that delighted his colored servant, and as the clock struck nine he walked into Donnelly's office, smoking a cigar which he did not taste.

"I haven't heard anything further from Corte, so we'll go down to the dock," the Chief informed him.

On the way to the river-front, Blake continued to smoke silently, giving a careful ear to Donnelly's final directions. When they reached their destination he waited while Dan went aboard the ship in search of the captain.

In those days, rail transportation had not developed into its present proportions, and New Orleans was even more interesting as a shipping-point than now. Along the levee stretched rows of craft from every port, big black ocean liners, barques and brigantines, fruit steamers from the tropics, and a tremendous flotilla of flat-nosed river steamers with their huge tows of barges. The cavernous sheds that lined the embankment echoed to a thunder of rumbling trucks, of clanking winches, of stamping hoofs, while through and above it all came the cries and songs of a multitude of roustabouts and deck-hands. Down the gangways of the _Philadelphia_, a thin, continuous line of dusky truckmen was moving. A growing chaos of trunks and smaller baggage on the dock indicated that her passenger-list was heavy.

Blake watched the shifting scene with little interest, now and then casting an unseeing eye over the ramparts of cotton bales near by; but although he was outwardly calm, his palms were cold and wet and his mind was working with a panicky swiftness.

Donnelly reappeared with the assurance that all was arranged with the ship's master, and, taking their stand where they could observe what went on, they settled themselves to wait.

Again the moments dragged. Again Blake fought his usual weary battle. He envied Donnelly his utter impassivity, for the officer betrayed no more feeling than as if he were standing, rod in hand, waiting for a fish to strike. An hour passed, bringing no sign of their men, although a stream of passengers was filing aboard and the piles of baggage were diminishing. Norvin struggled with the desire to voice his misgivings, which were taking the form of hopes; Donnelly chewed tobacco, and occasionally spat accurately at a knot-hole. His companion watched him curiously. Then, without warning, the Chief stirred, and there in the crowd Norvin suddenly saw the tall figure of Gian Narcone, with another man, evidently a Sicilian, beside him.

"That's Corte," Donnelly said, quietly.

The two watchers mingled with the crowd, gradually drawing closer to their quarry. But it seemed that Narcone refused to go aboard with his friend--at any rate, he made no move in that direction. The _Philadelphia blew a warning blast, the remaining passengers quickened their movements, there was but little baggage left now upon the deck, and still the two Italians stood talking volubly. Donnelly waited stolidly near by, never glancing at his man. Blake held himself with an iron grip, although his heart-throbs were choking him. It was plain that Corte also was beginning to feel the strain, and Norvin began to fear that Donnelly would delay too long.

At last the Pinkerton man stooped and raised his valise, then extended his hand to the Mafioso. Donnelly edged closer.

Blake knew that the moment for action had come, and found that without any exercise of will-power he too was closing in. His mind was working at such high speed that time seemed to halt and wait. Donnelly was within arm's-length of Narcone before he spoke; then he said, quietly, "Going to leave the city, Sabella?"

"Eh?" The Sicilian started, his eyes leaped to the speaker, and the smile died from his heavy features. Recognizing the officer, however, he pulled at the visor of his cap, and said, brokenly: "No, no, Signore. My friend goes."

"Come, now," the Chief said, grimly. "I want you to tell me something about the Domenchino boy."

Narcone recoiled, colliding with Blake, who instantly locked his arm within his own. Simultaneously Donnelly seized the other wrist, repeating, "You know who stole the little Domenchino."

The tension which had leaped into the giant muscles died away; Narcone shrugged his shoulders, crying, excitedly, in his native tongue:

"Before God you wrong me."

It was the instant for which his captor had planned; the ruse had worked; there was a deft movement on Donnelly's part, something snapped metallically, and the manacles of the law were upon the murderer of Martel Savigno.

It had all been accomplished quietly, quickly; even those standing near by hardly noticed it, and those who did were unaware of the significance of the arrest. But once his man was safely ironed, the Chief's manner changed, and in the next instant the prisoner caught, perhaps from the eye of Corte, the stool-pigeon, some fleeting hint that he had been betrayed. Following that came the suspicion that he had been seized not for complicity in the Domenchino affair, but for something far more significant. With a furious, snarling cry he flung himself backward and raised his manacled hands to strike.

But it was too late for effective resistance. They took him across the gang-plank, screaming, struggling, biting like a maddened animal, while curious passengers rushed to the rails above and stared at them, and another crowd yelled and hooted derisively from the dock.

A moment later they were in Corte's stateroom, panting, grim, triumphant, with their prisoner's back against the wall and their work done.

Now that Narcone realized the deception that had been practised upon him he began to curse his betrayer with incredible violence and fluency. As yet he had no idea whither he was being taken, nor for which of his many crimes he had been apprehended. But it seemed as if his rage would strangle him. With the unrestraint of a lifetime of lawlessness he poured out his passion in a terrifying rush of vilification, anathema, and threat. He hurled himself against the walls of the stateroom as if to burst his way out, and they were forced to clamp leg-irons upon him. When Donnelly had regained his breath he savagely commanded the fellow to be silent, but Narcone only shifted his fury from his betrayer to the Chief of Police.

To the Pinkerton operative Donnelly said, gratefully: "That was good work, Corte. Wire me from New York. We'll have to go now, for the ship is clearing."

"Wait!" said Blake; then pushing himself forward, he addressed the captive in Italian, "Where is Belisario Cardi?"

The question came like a gunshot, silencing the outlaw as if with a gag. His bloodshot eyes searched his questioner's face; his lips, wet with slaver, were snarling like those of a dog, but he said nothing.

"Where is Belisario Cardi?" came the question for a second time.

"I do not know him," said the Sicilian, sullenly. "I am Vito Sabella, an honest man--"

"You are Gian Narcone, the butcher, of San Sebastiano," said Blake. "You are going back to Sicily to be hanged for the murder of Martel Savigno, Count of Martinello, and his man Ricardo."

"Bah!" cried the prisoner, loudly. "I am not this Narcone of which you speak. I do not know him. I am Vito Sabella, a poor man, I swear it by the body of Christ. I have never seen this Cardi. God will punish those who persecute me."

Blake leaned forward until his face was close to Narcone's.

"Look closely," he said. "Have you ever seen me before?"

They stared at each other, eye to eye, and the Sicilian nodded.

"You were drinking chianti in the cafe on Royal Street, but I swear to you I am an innocent man and I curse those who betray me."

"Think! Do you recall a night four years ago? You were waiting beside the road above Terranova. There was a feast of all the country people at the castello, and finally three men came riding upward through the darkness. One of them was singing, for it was the eve of his marriage, and you knew him by his voice as the Count of Martinello. Do you remember what happened then? Think! You were called Narcone the Butcher, and you boasted loudly of your skill with the knife as you dried your hands upon a wisp of grass. You left two men in the road that night, but the third returned to Terranova. I ask you again if you have ever seen my face."

The effect of these words was extraordinary. The fury died from the prisoner's eyes, his coarse lips fell apart, the blood receded from his purple cheeks, he shrank and shivered loosely. In the silence they could hear the breath wheezing hoarsely in his throat. Blake made a final appeal.

"They will take you back to Sicily, to Colonel Neri and his carbineers, and you will hang. Before it is too late, tell me, where is Belisario Cardi?"

Narcone moistened his livid lips and glared malignantly at his inquisitors. But he could not be prevailed upon to speak.

"Well, that was easy," said Donnelly, when the _Philadelphia had cast off and the two friends were once more back in the rush and bustle of the water-front.

Norvin agreed. "And yet it seemed a bit unfair," he remarked. "There were three of us, you know. If he were not what he is, I'd feel somewhat ashamed of my part in the affair." Donnelly showed his contempt for such quixotic views by an expressive grunt. "You can take the next one single-handed, if you prefer. Perhaps it may be your friend Cardi."

"Perhaps," said Norvin, gravely. "If that should happen, I should feel that I had paid my debt in full."

"I'd like a chance to sweat Narcone," growled the Chief, regretfully. "I'd find Cardi, or I'd--" He heaved a sigh of relief. "Oh, well, we've done a good day's work as it is. I hope the papers don't get hold of it."

But the papers did get hold of it, and with an effect which neither man had anticipated. Had they foreseen the consequences of this morning's work, had they even remotely guessed at the forces they had unwittingly set in motion, they would have lost something of their complacency. Throughout the greater part of the city that night the kidnapping of Vito Sabella became the subject of excited comment. In the neighborhood of St. Phillip Street it was received in an ominous silence.

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