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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Net - Chapter 13. The Blood Of His Ancestors
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The Net - Chapter 13. The Blood Of His Ancestors Post by :sullc Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :2216

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The Net - Chapter 13. The Blood Of His Ancestors

CHAPTER XIII. THE BLOOD OF HIS ANCESTORS

At the Central Station Norvin found a great confusion. City officials and newspaper men were coming and going, telephones were ringing, patrolmen and detectives, summoned from their beds, were reporting and receiving orders; yet all this bustling activity affected him with a kind of angry impatience. It seemed, somehow, perfunctory and inadequate; in the intensity of his feeling he doubted that any one else realized, as he did, the full significance of what had occurred.

As quickly as possible he made his way to O'Neil, the Assistant Superintendent of Police, who was deep in consultation with Mayor Wright. For a moment he stood listening to their talk, and then, at the first pause, interposed without ceremony:

"Tell me--what is being done?"

O'Neil, who had not seemed to note his approach, answered without a hint of surprise at the interruption:

"We are dragging the city."

"Of course. Have you arrested Larubio, the cobbler?"

"No!" Both men turned to Blake now with concentrated attention.

"Then don't lose a moment's time. Arrest all his friends and associates. Look for a man in a rubber coat. I saw him fire. There's a boy, too," he added, after a moment's pause, "about fourteen years old. He was hiding at the corner. I think he must have been their picket; at any rate, he knows something."

The Assistant Superintendent noted these directions, and listened impassively while Norvin poured forth his story of the murder. Before it was fairly concluded he was summoned elsewhere, and, turning away abruptly, he left the room, like a man who knows he must think of but one thing at a time. The young man, wiping his face with uncertain hand, turned to the Mayor.

"Dan was the second friend I've seen murdered by these devils," he said. "I'd like to do something."

"We'll need your help, if it was really the dagoes."

"What? There's no doubt on that score. Donnelly was warned."

"Well, we ought to have them under arrest in short order."

"And then what? They've probably arranged their alibis long ago. The fellows who did the shooting are not the only ones, either. We must get the leaders."

"Exactly. O'Neil understands."

"But he'll fail, as Donnelly failed."

"What would you have us do?"

Blake spoke excitedly, his emotions finding a vent.

"Do? I'd rouse the people. Awaken the city. Create an uprising of the law-abiding. Strip the courts of their red tape and administer justice with a rope. Hang the guilty ones at once, before delay robs their execution of its effect and before there is time to breed doubts and distrust in the minds of the people."

"You mean, in plain words--lynch them?"

"Well, what of that? It's the only--"

"But, my dear young man, the law--"

"Oh, I know what you're going to say, well enough, yet there are times when mob law is justified. If these men are not destroyed quickly they will live to laugh at our laws and our scheme of justice. We must strike terror into the heart of every foreign-born criminal; we must clean the city with fire, unless we wish to see our institutions become a mockery and our community overridden by a band of cutthroats. The killing of Dan Donnelly is more than a mere murder; it is an attack on our civilization."

"You are carried away by your personal feelings."

"I think not. If this thing runs through the regular channels, what will happen? You know how hard it is to convict those people. We must fight fire with fire."

"Personally, I agree with a good deal you say; officially, of course. I can't go so far. You say you want to help. Will you assume a large responsibility? Will you take the lead in a popular movement to help the enforcement of the law--organize a committee?"

"If you think I'm the right man?"

"Good! Understand"--the Mayor spoke now with determined earnestness-- "we must have no lynchings; but I believe the police will need help in the search, and I think you are the man to stir up the public conscience and secure that aid. If you can help in apprehending the criminals we shall see that the courts do their part. I can trust you in so delicate a matter where I couldn't trust--some others."

O'Neil appeared at that moment with two strange objects in his hands.

"See what we've just found on the Basin Street banquette."

He displayed a pair of sawed-off shotguns the stocks of which were hinged in such a manner that the weapons could be doubled into a length of perhaps eighteen inches and thus be concealed upon the person. Blake examined them with mingled feelings. Having seen the body of the Chief ripped and torn in twenty places by buckshot, slugs, and scraps of iron, he had tried to imagine what sort of firearms had been used. Now he knew, and he began to wonder whether death would come to him in the same ugly form.

"Have you sent for Larubio?" he asked.

"The men are just leaving."

"I'll go with them."

O'Neil intercepted the officers at the door, and a moment later Norvin was hurrying with them toward Girod Street. Mechanically his mind began to review the events leading up to the murder, dwelling on each detail with painful and fruitless persistence. He repictured the scene that his eye had so swiftly and so carelessly recorded; he saw again the dark shed, the dumb group of figures idling beneath it, the open door and the flood of yellow light behind. But when he strove to recall a single face or form, or even the precise number of persons, he was at a loss. Nothing stood out distinctly but the bearded face of Larubio, the silhouette of a man in a gleaming rubber coat, and, a moment later, a slim stripling boy crouched in the shadows near the corner.

As the party turned into Girod Street he saw by the first streaks of dawn that the curious had already begun to assemble. A dozen or more men were morbidly examining the scene, re-enacting the assassination and tracing the course of bullets by the holes in wall and fence--no difficult matter, since the ground where Donnelly had given battle had been swept by a fusillade.

Larubio's shop was dark.

The officers tried the door quietly, then at a signal from Norvin they rushed it. The next instant the three men found themselves in an evil-smelling room furnished with a bench, some broken chairs, a litter of tools and shoes and leather findings. It was untenanted, but, seeing another door ahead of him, Blake stumbled toward it over the debris. Like the outer door, it was barred, but yielded to his shoulder.

It was well that the policemen were close upon his heels, for they found him locked in desperate conflict with a huge, half-naked Sicilian, who fought with the silent wickedness of a wolf at bay.

The chamber was squalid and odorous; a tumbled couch, from which the occupant had leaped, showed that he had been calmly sleeping upon the scene of his crime. Through the dim-lit filth of the place the cobbler whirled them, struggling like a man insane. A table fell with a crash of dishes, a stove was wrecked, a chair smashed, then he was pinned writhing to the bed from which he had just arisen.

"Close the front door--quick!" Norvin panted. "Keep out the crowd!"

One of the policemen dashed to the front of the hovel barely in time to bar the way.

Larubio, as he crouched there in the half-light, manacled but defiant, made a striking figure. He was a patriarchal man. His hairy, naked chest rose and fell as he fought for his breath, a thick beard grew high upon his cheeks, lending dignity to his fierce aquiline features, a tangled mass of iron-gray hair hung low above his eyes. He looked more like an Arab sheik than a beggarly Sicilian shoemaker.

"Why are you here?" he questioned, in a deep voice.

Blake answered him in his own language:

"You killed the Chief of Police."

"No. I had no part--"

"Don't lie!"

"As God is my judge, I am innocent. I heard the shooting; I looked out into the night and saw men running about. I was frightened, so I went to bed. That is all."

Norvin undertook to stare him down.

"You will hang for this, Larubio," he said.

The fierce gray eyes met his unflinchingly.

"You had a hand in the killing, for I saw you. But you acted against your will. Am I right?"

Still the patriarch flung back his glance defiantly.

"You were ordered to kill and you dared not disobey. Where is Belisario Cardi?"

The old man started. Into his eyes for the briefest instant there leaped a look of terror, then it was gone.

"I do not know what you are talking about," he answered.

"Come! The man with the rubber coat has confessed."

Larubio's gaze roved uncertainly about the squalid quarters; but he shook his head, mumbling:

"God will protect the innocent. I know nothing, your Excellency."

They dragged him, still protesting, from his den as dogs drag an animal from its burrow. But Norvin had learned something. That momentary wavering glance, that flitting light of doubt and fear, had told him that to the cobbler the name of Cardi meant something real and terrible.

Back at headquarters O'Neil had further information for him.

"We've got Larubio's brother-in-law, Caspardo Cressi. It was his son, no doubt, whom you saw waiting at the corner."

"Have you found the boy?"

"No, he's gone."

"Then make haste before they have time to spirit him away. These men won't talk, but we might squeeze something out of the boy. He's the weakest link in the chain, so you _must find him."

The morning papers were on the street when Norvin went home. New Orleans had awakened to the outrage against her good name. Men were grouped upon corners, women were gossiping from house to house, the air was surcharged with a great excitement. It was as if a public enemy had been discovered at the gates, as if an alien foe had struck while the city slept. That unformed foreign prejudice which had been slowly growing had crystallized in a single night.

To Norvin the popular clamor, which rose high during the next few days, had a sickening familiarity. At the time of Martel Savigno's murder he had looked upon justice as a thing inevitable, he had felt that the public wrath, once aroused, was an irresistible force; yet he had seen how ineffectually such a force could spend itself. And the New Orleans police seemed likely to accomplish little more than the Italian soldiers. Although more than a hundred arrests were made, it was doubtful if, with the exception of Larubio and Cressi, any of the real culprits had been caught. He turned the matter over in his mind incessantly, consulted with O'Neil as to ways and means, conferred with the Mayor, sounded his friends. Then one morning he awoke to find himself at the head of a Committee of Justice, composed of fifty leading business men of the city, armed with powers somewhat vaguely defined, but in reality extremely wide. He set himself diligently to his task.

There followed through the newspapers an appeal to the Italian population for assistance, and offers of tremendous rewards. This resulted in a flood of letters, some signed, but mostly anonymous, a multitude of shadowy clues, of wild accusations. But no sooner was a promising trail uncovered than the witness disappeared or became inspired with a terror which sealed his lips. It began to appear that there was really no evidence to be had beyond what Norvin's eyes had photographed. And this, he knew, was not enough to convict even Larubio and his brother-in-law.

While thus baffled and groping for the faintest clue, he received a letter which brought him at least a ray of sunshine. He had opened perhaps half of his morning's mail one day when he came upon a truly remarkable missive. It was headed with an amateurish drawing or a skull; at the bottom of the sheet was a dagger, and over all, in bright red, was the life-size imprint of a small, plump hand.

In round, school-girl characters he read as follows:


"Beware! You are a traitor and a deserter, therefore you are doomed. Escape is impossible unless you heed this warning. Meet me at the old house on St. Charles Street, and bring your ransom.

"THE AVENGER."


At the lower left-hand corner, in microscopic characters, was written:

"I love chocolate nougat best."

Norvin laughed as he re-read this sanguinary epistle, for he had to admit that it had given him a slight start. Being a man of action, he walked to the telephone and called a number which had long since become familiar.

"Is this the Creole Candy Kitchen? Send ten pounds of your best chocolate nougat to Miss Myra Nell Warren at once. This is Blake speaking. Wait! I have enough on my conscience without adding another sin. Perhaps you'd better make it five pounds now and five pounds a week hereafter. Put it in your fanciest basket, with lots of blue ribbon, and label it 'Ransom!'"

Next he called the girl himself, and after an interminable wait heard a breathless voice say:

"Hello, Norvin! I've been out in the kitchen making cake, so I couldn't get away. It's in the oven now, cooking like mad."

"I've just received a threatening letter," he told her.

"Who in the world could have sent it?"

"Evidently some blackmailing wretch. It demands a ransom."

"Heavens! You won't be cowardly enough to yield?"

"Certainly. I daren't refuse."

He heard her laughing softly. "Why don't you tell the police?"

"Indeed! There's an army of men besieging the place now."

"Then you must expect to catch the writer?"

"I've been trying to for a long time."

"I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about," she said, innocently.

"Could I have sent the ransom to the wrong address?"

He pretended to be seized with doubt, whereupon Myra Nell exclaimed, quickly:

"Oh, not necessarily." Then, after a pause, "Norvin, how does a person get red ink off of her hands?"

"Use a cotton broker. Let him hold it this evening."

"I'd love to, but Bernie wouldn't allow it. It was his ink, you know, and I spilled it all over his desk. Norvin--is it really nougat?"

"It is, the most unhealthy, the most indigestible--"

"You _duck_! You _may hold my gory hand for--Wait!" Blake heard a faint shriek. "Don't ring off. Something terrible--" Then the wire was dead.

"Hello! Hello!" he called. "What's wrong, Myra Nell?" He rattled the receiver violently, and getting no response, applied to Central. After some moments he heard her explaining in a relieved tone:

"Oh, _such a fright as I had."

"What was it? For Heaven's--"

"The cake!"

"You frightened me. I thought--"

"It's four stories high and pasted together with caramel."

"You should never leave a 'phone in that way without--"

"Bernie detests caramel; but I'm expecting a 'certain party' to call on me to-night. Norvin, do you think red ink would hurt a cake?"

"Myra Nell," he said, severely, "didn't you wash your hands before mixing that dough?"

"Of course."

"I have my doubts. Will you really be at liberty this evening?"

"That depends entirely upon you. If I am, I shall exact another ransom--flowers, perhaps."

"I'll send them anyhow, Marechal Neils."

"Oh, you are a--Wait!"

For a second time Miss Warren broke off; but now Norvin heard her cry out gladly to some one. He held the receiver patiently until his arm cramped, then rang up again.

"Oh, I forgot all about you, Norvin dear," she chattered. "Vittoria has just come, so I can't talk to you any more. Won't you run out and meet her? I know she's just dying to--She says she isn't, either! Oh, fiddlesticks! You're not so busy as all that. Very well, we'll probably eat the cake ourselves. Good-by!"

"Good-by, Avenger," he laughed.

As he turned away smiling he found Bernie Dreux comfortably ensconced in an office chair and regarding him benignly.

"Hello, Bernie! I didn't hear you come in."

"Wasn't that Myra Nell talking?" inquired the little man.

"Yes."

"You called her 'Avenger.' What has she been up to now?"

Blake handed him the red-hand letter. To his surprise Bernie burst out angrily:

"How dare she?"

"What?"

"It's most unladylike--begging a gentleman for gifts. I'll see that she apologizes."

"If you do I'll punch your head. She couldn't do anything unladylike if she tried."

"I don't approve--"

"Nonsense!"

"I'll see that she gets her chocolates."

"Oh, I've sent 'em--a deadly consignment--enough to destroy both of you. And I've left a standing order for five pounds a week."

"But that letter--it's blackmail." Bernie groaned. "She holds me up in the same way whenever she feels like it. She's getting suspicious of me lately, and I daren't tell her I'm a detective. The other day she set Remus, our gardener, on my trail, and he shadowed me all over the town. Felicite thinks there's something wrong, too, and she's taken to following me. Between her and Remus I haven't a moment's privacy."

"It's tough for a detective to be dogged by his gardener and his sweetheart," Norvin sympathized. He began to run through his mail, while his visitor talked on in his amusing, irrelevant fashion.

"I'm rather offended that I wasn't named on that Committee of Fifty," Bernie confessed, after a time. "You know how the Chief relied on me?"

"Exactly."

"Well, I'm full of Italian mysteries now. What I haven't discovered by my own investigations, Vittoria Fabrizi has told me. For instance, I know what became of the boy Gino Cressi."

"You do?" Blake looked up curiously from a letter he had been eagerly perusing.

"He's in Mobile."

"Are you sure?"

"Certainly."

"I think you're wrong."

"Why am I wrong?"

"Read this. My mail is full of anonymous communications." He passed over the letter in his hand, and Mr. Dreux read as follows:


NORVIN BLAKE,

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA.

The Cressi boy is hidden at 93 1/2 St. Phillip Street. Go personally and in secret, for there are spies among the police.

ONE WHO KNOWS.


"Good Lord! Do you believe it?"

"I shall know in an hour." In reality Norvin had no doubt that his informant told the truth. On the contrary, he found that he had been waiting subconsciously for a hint from this mysterious but reliable source, and now that it had come he felt confident and elated. "A leak in the department would explain the maddening series of checkmates up to date." After a moment's hesitation he continued: "If Gino Cressi proves to be the boy I saw that night, we will put the rope around his father's and his uncle's necks, for he is little more than a child, and they evidently knew he would confess if accused; otherwise they wouldn't have been so careful to hide him." He rose and, eying Dreux intently, inquired, "Will you go along and help me take him?"

Bernie fell into a sudden panic of excitement. His face paled, he blinked with incredible rapidity, his lips twitched, and he clasped his thin, bloodless hands nervously.

"Why--are you--really--going--and alone?"

Norvin nodded. "If they have spies among our own men the least indiscretion may give the alarm. Besides, there is no time to lose; it would be madness to go there after dark. Will you come?"

"You--b-b-bet," Mr. Dreux stuttered. After a painful effort to control himself he inquired, with rolling eyes, "S-say, Norvin, will there be any fighting--any d-d-danger?"

Blake's own imagination had already presented that aspect of the matter all too vividly.

"Yes, there may be danger," he confessed. "We may have to take the boy by force." His nerves began to dance and quiver, as always before every new adventure.

"Perhaps, after all, you'd better not go. I--understand how you feel."

The little man burst out in a forceful expletive.

"_Pudding! I _want to fight. D-don't you see?"

"No. I don't."

"I've never been in a row. I've never done anything brave or desperate, like--like you. I'm aching for trouble. I go looking for it every night."

"Really!" Blake looked his incredulity.

"Sure thing! Last night I insulted a perfectly nice gentleman just to provoke a quarrel. I'd never seen him before, and ordinarily I hesitate to accost strangers; but I felt as if I'd have hysterics if I couldn't lick somebody; so I walked up to this person and told him his necktie was in rotten taste."

"What did he say?"

"He offered to go home and change it. I was so chagrined that I-- cursed him fearfully."

"Bernie!"

Dreux nodded with an expression of the keenest satisfaction. "I could have cried. I called him a worm, a bug, a boll-weevil; but he said he had a family and didn't intend to be shot up by some well-dressed desperado."

"I suppose it's the blood of your ancestors."

"I suppose it is. Now let's go get this dago boy. I'm loaded for grizzlies, and if the Mafia cuts in I'll croak somebody." He drew a huge rusty military revolver from somewhere inside his clothes and flourished it so recklessly that his companion recoiled.

Together the two set out for St. Phillip Street. Blake, whose reputation for bravery had become proverbial, went reluctantly, preyed upon by misgivings; Dreux, the decadent, overbred dandy, went gladly, as if thirsting for the fray.

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