The Apartment Next Door
William Andrew Johnston
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Kirschner and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.
The Apartment Next Door
THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS, LIMPY, ETC.
ARTHUR WILLIAM BROWN
TO THAT MARVELLOUS SCHEHERAZADE
CAROLYN WELLS HOUGHTON
THE AUTHOR, IN ENVIOUS ADMIRATION,
DEDICATES THIS VOLUME
I. THE FACE OF HATE
II. THE ADDRESS ON THE CARD
III. "MR. FLECK"
IV. THE CLUE IN THE BOOK
V. ON THE TRAIL
VI. THE MISSING MESSAGE
VII. THE WOMAN ON THE ROOF
VIII. THE LISTENING EAR
IX. THE PURSUIT
X. CARTER'S DISCOVERY
XI. JANE'S ADVENTURE
XII. PUZZLES AND PLANS
XIII. THE SEALED PACKET
XIV. THE MOUNTAIN'S SECRET
XV. THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS
XVI. THE ATTACK ON THE HOUSE
XVII. SOMETHING UNEXPECTED
XVIII. WHAT THE PACKET CONTAINED
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
* * * * *
She could not bring herself to tell him, the
man she loved, the thing she knew he
More than likely, she alone in all the world--knew
who the murderer was.
Had he been standing there listening? How
much had he heard?
"Thank God," he cried. "Jane, dear,
tell me you are not hurt!"
THE FACE OF HATE
It was three o'clock in the morning. Along a deserted pavement of
Riverside Drive strode briskly a young man whose square-set shoulders
and erect poise suggested a military training. His coat, thrown
carelessly open to the cold night wind, displayed an expanse of white
indicative of evening dress. As he walked his heels clicked sharply on
the concrete with the forceful firm tread of the type which does things
quickly and decisively. The intense stillness of the early morning hours
carried the sound in little staccato beats that could be heard blocks
away. A few yards behind him, moving furtively and noiselessly, almost
as if he had been shod with rubber, crept another figure, that of a
stocky, broad-shouldered man, who despite his bulk and weight moved
silently and swiftly through the night, a soft brown hat drawn low over
his eyes as if he desired to avoid recognition.
All at once the man ahead paused suddenly and stood looking out over the
river. Between the Drive and the distance-dimmed lights of the Jersey
shore there rose like great silhouettes the grim figures of several huge
steel-clad battleships, their fighting-tops lost in the shadows of the
opposite hills. Beside them, obscure, with no lights visible, lay the
great transports that in a few hours, or in a few days--who knew--they
would be convoying with their precious cargo of fighting men across the
It was on the forward deck of one of these great battleships that the
eyes of the man ahead were riveted. His shadower, evidently much
concerned in his actions, crept slowly and stealthily forward,
approaching nearer and still nearer without being observed.
A dim light became visible on the warship's deck and then vanished.
Still the man stood there watching, a puzzled, anxious look coming into
his face. Quickly the light reappeared--two flashes, a pause, two
flashes, a pause, and then a single flash. It was such a light as might
have been made by a pocket torch, a feeble ray barely strong enough to
carry to the adjacent shore, a light that if it had been flashed from
some sheltered nook by the boat davits might not even have attracted the
attention of the officer on the bridge nor of the ship's watchmen.
Manifestly it was a signal intended for the eyes of some one on shore.
A muttered imprecation escaped the lips of the watcher on the Drive. He
stood there, straining his eyes toward the ship as if expecting a
following signal, then he turned and gazed aloft at the windows of the
apartment houses lining the driveway to see if some answering signal
And in the shadow of the buildings, hardly ten feet away but half
sheltered by a doorway, stood his sinister pursuer, motionless
For perhaps a quarter of an hour they held their positions. At last the
man who was being followed shrugged his shoulders impatiently and set
off again down the Drive, from time to time turning his head to watch
the spot from which the signal had been flashed. Behind him, as
doggedly as ever and now a little closer, crept the man with the hat
over his eyes.
Regardless of the lateness of the hour, at a third-floor window of one
of the great apartment houses lining the Drive sat a young girl in her
nightrobe, with her two great black braids flung forward over her
shoulders, about which she had placed for warmth's sake a quilted
negligee. Jane Strong was far too excited to sleep. An hour before she
had come in from a wonderful party. The music still was playing mad
tunes in her ears. The excitement, the coffee, the spirited tilts at
arms with her many dancing partners had set her brain on fire. Sleep
seemed impossible as yet.
Looking out at the river--a favorite occupation of hers--the sight of
the warships looming up through the darkness reminded her once more that
nearly all of the men with whom she had been dancing had been in
uniform, bringing into prominence in the jumble of ideas in her
over-stimulated brain, almost as a new discovery, the fact that her
country was really engaged in war, that the men, the very men whom she
knew best, were most of them fighting, or soon going to fight in a
foreign land. Suddenly she found herself vaguely wishing that there was
something she might do, something for the war, something to help. Would
it not be splendid, she thought, to go to France as a Red Cross nurse,
to be over there in the middle of things, where something exciting was
forever going on. Life--the only life she knew about, existence as the
petted daughter of well-to-do parents in a big city--had, ever since the
war had begun, seemed strangely flat and uninteresting. Parties, to be
sure, were fun but hardly any one was giving parties this year. The
Stantons had entertained only because their lieutenant son was going
abroad soon, and they wished him to have a pleasant memory to carry with
him. Most of the interesting men she knew already were gone, and now
Jack Stanton was going. How she wished she could find some way of
getting into the war herself.
The sound of approaching footsteps caught her ear. Wondering who was
abroad at that hour of the night she pushed up the window softly and
looked out. In the distance she saw a man approaching, striding briskly
toward her. As she stood idly watching him and wondering about him,
suddenly she caught her breath. She had sighted the other figure behind,
the man creeping stealthily after him. Nearer and nearer they came. In
tense expectation she waited, sensing some unusual development. They had
reached her block now. Almost directly under her window the man in
advance paused to light a cigarette. His shadow paused, too, but some
incautious movement on his part must have betrayed him.
Match in hand, the man in advance stood stock-still, his whole figure
taut, poised, alert, in an attitude of listening. All at once he wheeled
about, discovering the man close behind him. He sprang at once for his
pursuer. The latter took to his heels, dashing around the corner, the
man whom he had been following now hot at his heels.
All trembling with nervous excitement Jane leaned out the window to
listen and watch. She could hear the running feet of both men just
around the corner. What was happening? The running feet came to an
abrupt stop. There was a half-smothered cry, a sharp thud, like a body
striking the pavement, and then came silence. Puzzled, vaguely alarmed,
a hundred questions came pouring into her brain and lingered there
disturbingly. Why had one of these men been shadowing the other? Why had
the pursuer suddenly become the pursued? Why had the running footsteps
come to such an abrupt stop? What was the noise she had heard? What was
happening around the corner? Her fears rapidly growing, she was on the
point of arousing her family. But what excuse should she give? What
could she tell them? After all she had merely seen two men run up the
side street. More than likely they would only laugh at her, and she did
not like being laughed at. Besides, Dad was always cross when suddenly
awakened. Undecided what to do she stood at the window, peering into
Five minutes, ten minutes she stood there in tremulous perplexity. A
sense of impending tragedy seemed to have laid hold of her. A black
horror seized her and held her at the window. Something terrible,
something tragic, she was sure must have happened. Mustering up her
strength and trying to calm her fears she was about to put down the
window when she heard footsteps once more approaching. Straining her
ears to listen she discovered the sound was that of the steps of a
man--one man--approaching from around the corner. As she watched he
turned into the Drive and came on toward her. She shrank back a little,
fearful of being seen even though her room was in darkness. It was the
first man. She recognized him at once by his top-hat and his evening
clothes. He was walking even more briskly than before, almost running.
There was no sign anywhere of the shorter thick-set man who had been
following him. Something in the appearance of the figure in the street
below struck her all at once as vaguely familiar. She wondered if it
could be any one she knew.
Presently he came directly opposite the light on the other side of the
Drive so that it shone for an instant full on his face. Jane looked and
shuddered. Never in all her life had she seen any man's countenance so
convulsed, not with pain, but with a soul-terrifying expression of hate,
of virulent, murderous hate.
Distorted though the man's face was with such bitter frightfulness, she
recognized him, not as any one she knew, but merely as one of the
tenants in the same apartment building.
"It's one of the people next door," she said to herself and in
verification of her identification, as he approached the building, the
young man cast a swift glance over his shoulder, and then, as if
satisfied that he was unobserved, dashed hurriedly in at the entrance.
Jane, more than ever wrought up with fear and dread of she knew not
what, sprang hastily into bed and drew the covers about her shoulders.
As yet she did not lie down but shiveringly waited. Presently she heard
the elevator stop. She heard the key opening the door of the next
apartment. In a few minutes she heard the man moving about his bedroom,
separated from her own room by a mere six inches of plaster and paper,
or whatever it is that apartment-house walls are made of.
What could have happened? She was certain that something terrible had
occurred in which the young man next door had played a tragic, perhaps
even a criminal part. She tried in vain to conjecture what circumstance
could have been responsible for the look of hatred she had seen on his
face. She wondered what had been the fate of the man who had been
following him. Had they quarrelled and fought? What could have been the
subject of their quarrel?
She tried to summarize what she knew about the people next door, and was
amazed to discover how little she had to draw upon. As in most New York
apartment houses so in Jane's home all the tenants were utter strangers
to each other, one family not even knowing the names of any of the
others. Occasionally, to be sure, one rather resentfully rode up or down
in the elevator with some of the other tenants but always without
noticing or speaking to them. Jane's family had been living in the
building for five years, and of the twenty other families they knew the
names of only two, having learned them by accident rather than
intention. About the people next door Jane now discovered that she
really knew nothing at all. There was a man with a gray beard who never
took off his hat in the elevator, and there was the handsome young chap
whom she had just seen entering. But what their names were, or their
business, or how long they had lived there, or whether they were father
and son, what servants they kept, or whether either or both of them was
married--these were questions she could have answered as readily as if
they had been living in Dallas, Texas, or Seattle, Washington, as in the
next apartment. Quickly she found that she really knew nothing at all
about them except--she could not recall that any one had told her or how
she had got the impression--she was almost certain they were some sort
Just when it was that her troubled thoughts were succeeded by even more
troubled dreams she was not aware, but it was noon the next day when she
was awakened by the maid bringing in her breakfast tray.
"Terrible, Miss Jane, wasn't it," said the servant, "about that suicide
last night, almost under our noses, you might say."
"Suicide!" cried the girl, at once wide-awake and interested "What
"A man was found dead in the side street right by our building with a
revolver in his hand."
"What sort of a looking man was he?"
"I didn't see him," said the maid, almost regretfully. "He was taken
away before I was up. Cook tells me it was the milkman found him and
notified the police."
"Who was he?"
"Nobody round here knows a thing about him. He shot himself through the
heart and us sleeping here an' not knowing anything at all about it."
"But didn't any one know who he was?"
"Never a soul. The superintendents from all the buildings round took a
look at the body, but none of them knew him. It wasn't anybody that
lived around here. There's a piece in the afternoon papers about it."
"Get me a paper at once," directed the girl.
Eagerly she read the paragraph the maid pointed out. It really told very
little. The body of a plainly dressed man had been found on the
sidewalk. There was a revolver in his hand with one cartridge
discharged, and the bullet had penetrated his heart. He had been a short
stalky man and had worn a brown soft hat. There was nothing about his
clothing to identify him, even the marks where his suit had been
purchased having been removed. He had not been identified. The police
and the coroner were satisfied that it was a case of suicide.
Jane, reading and rereading the paragraph, recalled the unusual
occurrence she had witnessed the night before. Vividly there stood out
before her the strange panorama she had seen, the tall young man in
evening clothes, and the short stalky man with the soft hat who had
followed him. The two of them had run around the corner. Only one of
them had come back. Unforgettably there was imprinted in her memory the
satanic expression on the young man's face as he had hastened into the
house. No wonder he had cast such an anxious glance behind him as
Jane was certain that it was no suicide. She remembered the curious thud
she had heard from around the corner, like a body falling to the
pavement. She recalled that it must have been at least ten minutes
before the other man reappeared, time enough to have placed the revolver
in the dead man's hand, time enough even to have removed all possible
means of identification from the man's clothing.
It was not suicide, Jane felt certain. It was murder! Slowly but
oppressingly, overwhelmingly, it dawned on her not only that in all
probability a murder had been committed, but also that she--more than
likely, she alone in all the world--knew who the murderer was, who it
must have been--the young man next door.
THE ADDRESS ON THE CARD
Impatiently Jane looked at her wrist watch. It lacked an hour of the
time when she was to meet her mother at the Ritz for tea. Her nerves
still all ajangle from excitement and worry over the morning's tragedy,
and her own accidental secret knowledge of certain aspects of the case
had made it wholly impossible for her to do anything that day with even
She had been debating with herself whether or not to confide to her
mother the story of the tragic tableau of which she had been an
accidental witness, when Mrs. Strong had dashed into her bedroom to give
her a hurried peck on the cheek and to say that she was off to luncheon
and the matinee with Mrs. Starrett.
"You're not looking well to-day, dear," her mother had said. "Stay in
bed and rest and join us for tea if you like."
Before she had opportunity to tell what she had seen, her mother was
gone, but Jane had found it impossible to obey her well-meant
injunction. She rose and dressed, her mind busy all the while with the
problem of what her duty was. As she donned her clothing she paused from
time to time to listen for sounds from the next apartment.
What was her neighbor doing now? Had he read of the discovery of the
man's body in the street? Perhaps he had fled already? Not a sound was
to be heard there. He did not look in the least like what Jane imagined
a murderer would, yet certainly the circumstances pointed all too
plainly to his guilt. She had seen two men dash around the corner, one
in pursuit of the other. One of them had come back alone. Not long
afterward a body--the body of the other man--had been found with a
bullet in his heart. It must have been a murder.
What ought she to do about it? Was it her duty to tell her mother and
Dad about what she had seen? Mother, she knew, would be horrified and
would caution her to say nothing to any one, but Dad was different. He
had strict ideas about right and justice. He would insist on hearing
every word she had to tell. More than likely he would decide that it was
her duty to give the information to the authorities. Her face blanched
at the thought. She could not do that. She pictured to herself the
notoriety that would necessarily ensue. She saw herself being hounded by
reporters, she imagined her picture in the papers, she heard herself
branded as "the witness in that murder case," she depicted herself being
questioned by detectives and badgered by lawyers.
No, she decided, it would be best for her never to tell a soul, not even
her parents. In persistent silence lay her safest course. After all she
had not witnessed the commission of the crime. She was not even sure
that the man found dead had been one of the two she had watched from her
window. If she saw the body she would not be able to identify it. She
was not even certain in her own mind that the man next door had done the
shooting, however suspicious his actions may have appeared to her.
Besides, he did not look in the least like a murderer. He was too
In an effort to put the whole thing out of her mind she tried to read,
but was unable to keep her thoughts from wandering. She sat down at the
piano, but music failed to interest or soothe her. She mussed over some
unanswered notes in her desk but could not summon up enough
concentration of mind to answer them. Restless and fidgety, unable to
keep her thoughts from the unusual occurrences that had disturbed her
ordinarily too peaceful life, she decided to take a walk until it was
time to keep her appointment. Something--force of habit probably--led
her to the shopping district. With still half an hour to kill, she went
into a little specialty shop to examine some knitting bags displayed in
"Why don't you knit as all the other girls are doing?" was her father's
constant suggestion every time she asserted her desire to be doing
something in the war.
"There's no thrill in knitting," she would answer. "Fix it, Dad, so that
I can go to France as a Red Cross nurse or as an ambulance driver, won't
you? I want some excitement."
Always he had refused to consent to her going, insisting that France in
wartime was no place for an untrained girl.
"If I can't go myself, I certainly am not going to send any knitting,"
she would spiritedly answer, but several times recently the sight of
such charming looking knitting bags had tempted her into almost breaking
Inside the shop she found nothing that appealed to her, and contented
herself with buying some toilet articles. As she made her purchases she
noticed, almost subconsciously, a man standing near, talking with one of
the shopgirls--a middle-aged man with a dark mustache.
"The address, please," said the girl, who had been waiting on her.
"Miss Strong," she answered, giving the number of the apartment house on
She recalled afterward that as she mentioned the number the man standing
there had turned and looked sharply at her, but she thought nothing of
it. Her father's name was well known and he had many acquaintances in
the city. More than likely, she supposed, this man was some friend of
her father who had recognized the name.
She lingered a few moments at some of the other counters, aimlessly
inspecting their offerings, and at last, with ten minutes left to reach
the Ritz, emerged from the store. She was amazed to see the man who had
been inside now standing near the entrance, and something within warned
her that he had been waiting to speak to her. As she attempted to pass
him quickly, he stepped in front of her, blocking her path, but raising
his hat deferentially.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Strong," he said, "may I have a word with you?"
Compelled to halt, she looked at him both appraisingly and resentfully.
There was nothing offensive nor flirtatious in his manner, and he seemed
far too respectably dressed to be a beggar. He was almost old enough to
be her father, and besides there was about him an indefinable air of
authority that commanded her attention. She decided that, unusual as his
request appeared, she would hear what he had to say.
"What is it?" she asked, trying to assume an air of hauteur but without
being able wholly to mask her curiosity.
"You are an American, aren't you?" he asked abruptly.
"A good American?"
"I hope so." She decided now that he must be one of the members of some
Red Cross fund "drive," or perhaps an overenthusiastic salesman for
government bonds. "But I don't quite understand what it is that
"I can't explain," said her questioner, "but if you really are a good
American and you'd like to do your country a great service--an important
service--go at once to the address on this card."
She took the slip of white pasteboard handed her. On it was written in
pencil "Room 708." The building was a skyscraper down-town.
"What is it?" she asked half indignantly, "a new scheme to sell bonds?"
"No, no, Miss Strong," he cried, "it is nothing like that. It is a great
opportunity to do an important service for America."
"How did you know my name?"
"I heard you give it to the clerk just now."
"And why," she inquired with what she intended to be withering sarcasm,
"have I been selected so suddenly for this important work?"
"I heard the address you gave, that's why," he answered. "That's what
makes it so important that you should go to that number at once. Ask for
"I can't go," she temporized. "I am on my way now to meet my mother at
"Go to-morrow, then," he insisted. "I'll see Mr. Fleck meanwhile and
tell him about you."
Puzzled at the man's unusual and wholly preposterous request, yet in
spite of herself impressed by his evident sincerity, Jane turned the
card nervously in her hand and discovered some small characters on the
back; "K-15" they read.
"What do those figures mean?" she asked.
"I can't tell you that. Mr. Fleck will explain everything. Promise me
you will go to see him."
"Who are you?"
"I can't tell you that, yet."
"Who, then, is Mr. Fleck?"
"He will explain that to you."
"What has my address to do with it? I can't understand yet why you make
this preposterous request of me."
"I tell you I can't explain it to you, not yet," the man replied, "but
it's because you live where you do you must go to see Mr. Fleck. It's
about a matter of the highest importance to your government. It is more
important than life and death."
His last words startled her. They brought to her mind afresh the
mysterious occurrence she had witnessed the night before and the equally
mysterious death near her home. Had this man's odd request any
connection, she wondered, with what had happened there? The lure of the
unknown, the opportunity for adventure, called to her, though prudence
bade her be cautious.
"I'll ask my mother," she temporized.
"Don't," cried the man. "You must keep your visit to Mr. Fleck a secret
from everybody. You mustn't breathe a word about it even to your father
and mother. Take my word for it, Miss Strong, that what I am asking you
to do is right. I've two daughters of my own. The thing I'm urging you
to do I'd be proud and honored to have either of them do if they could.
There is no one else in the world but you that can do this particular
thing. A word to a single living soul and you'll end your usefulness.
You must not even tell any one you have talked with me. See Mr. Fleck.
He'll explain everything to you. Promise me you'll see him."
"I promise," Jane found herself saying, even against her better
judgment, won over by the man's insistence.
"Good. I knew you would," said her mysterious questioner, turning on his
heel and vanishing speedily as if afraid to give her an opportunity of
Puzzled beyond measure not only at the man's strange conduct but even
more at her own compliance with his request, Jane made her way slowly
and thoughtfully to the Ritz, where she found her mother and Mrs.
Starrett had already arrived.
As they sipped their tea the two elder women chatted complacently about
the matinee, about their acquaintances, about other women in the
tea-room and the gowns they had on, about bridge hands--the usual small
talk of afternoon tea.
To Jane, oppressed with her two secrets, all at once their conversation
seemed the dreariest piffle. Great things were happening everywhere in
the world, nations at war, men fighting and dying in the trenches of
horror for the sake of an ideal, kings were being overthrown, dynasties
tottering, boundaries of nations vanishing. Women, she realized, too,
more than ever in history, were taking an active and important part in
world affairs. In the lands of battle they were nursing the wounded,
driving ambulances helping to rehabilitate wrecked villages. In the
lands where peace still reigned they were voting, speech-making, holding
jobs, running offices, many of them were uniting to aid in movements for
civic improvement, for better children, for the improvement of the whole
And here they were--here _she_ was, idling uselessly at the Ritz as she
had done yesterday, last week, last month--forever, it seemed to her.
The vague protest that for some time had been growing within her against
the senselessness and futility of her manner of existence crystallized
itself now into a determination no longer to submit to it. Courageously
she was resolving that she would take the first opportunity to escape
from this boresome routine of pleasure-seeking. She was wondering if the
request that had been so unexpectedly made of her would prove to be her
way out from her prison of desuetude.
The talk of the two women with her drifted aimlessly on. Seldom was she
included in it, save when her mother, nodding to some one she knew,
would turn to say:
"Daughter, there is Mrs. Jones-Lloyd."
What did she care about Mrs. Jones-Lloyd? What did she care about any of
the people about them, aimless, pleasure-hunting drifters like
themselves. Left to her own devices for mental activity her thoughts
kept recurring to the surprising adventure she had had a few minutes
before. Thoughtfully she pondered over the mysterious message that had
been given to her. The man had said that it was a wonderful opportunity
for her to do her country a great service. She wondered why he had been
so secretive about it. She decided that she would investigate further
and made up her mind to carry out his instructions. What harm could
befall her in visiting an office building in the business district? At
least it would be something to do, something new, something different,
something surely exciting and, perhaps, something useful.
It would be better, she decided, for the present at least, to keep her
intentions entirely to herself. Any hint of her plans to her mother
would surely result in permission being refused. The man certainly had
seemed sincere, honest, and perfectly respectable, even if he was not of
the sort one would ask to dinner. She made up her mind to go down-town
to the address given the very first thing to-morrow morning. If anything
should happen to her, she felt that she could always reach her father.
His office was in the next block.
The problem of making the mysterious journey without her mother's
knowledge bothered her not at all. As in the case of most
apartment-house families, she and her mother really saw very little of
each other, especially since she had become a "young lady." Mrs. Strong
went constantly to lectures, to luncheons, to bridge parties, to
matinees with her own particular friends. Jane's engagements were with
another set entirely, school friends most of them, whose parents and
hers hardly knew each other. Both she and her mother habitually
breakfasted in bed, generally at different hours, and seldom lunched
together. At dinner, when Mr. Strong was present, there were no
intimacies between mother and daughter. The only times they really saw
each other for protracted periods were when they happened to go
shopping, or go to the dressmaker's together, and then the subject
always uppermost in the minds of both of them was the all-important and
absorbing topic of clothes. Occasionally, Jane poured at one of her
mother's more formal functions, but for the most part the time of each
was taken up in a mad, senseless hunt for amusement.
Suddenly every thought was driven from Jane's head. Her face went white,
and with difficulty she managed to suppress an alarmed cry.
"What is it, daughter?" asked her mother, noting her perturbation. "Are
you feeling ill?"
"A touch of neuralgia," she managed to answer.
"Too many late hours," warned Mrs. Starrett reprovingly.
"I'm afraid so," said Mrs. Strong. "As soon as I've paid my check we'll
"I'm perfectly all right now," said Jane, controlling herself with
effort, though her face was still white.
The danger that she had feared had passed for the present at least.
Glancing toward the entrance a moment before she had been terrified to
see entering the black-mustached man who had accosted her a few moments
before. Her one thought now had been that he had followed her here, and
in a panic she was wondering how she should make explanations if he came
up to their table and spoke. To her great relief he gave no intimation
of having seen her, but settled himself into a chair near the door where
he was half hidden from her by a great palm. Furtively she watched him,
trying to divine his intention in having followed her there. Respectable
enough though he was in appearance and garb, he did not seem in the
least like the sort of man likely to be found at tea-time in an
exclusive hotel. As she studied him she soon saw that his attention
seemed to be riveted on some one sitting at the other side of the room.
Wonderingly she let her eyes follow his, and once more it was with
difficulty that she suppressed an excited gasp.
There, across the room, calmly sipping some coffee, was the handsome
young man from the next apartment--the man whom she had felt sure, or at
least almost sure, was a murderer, about whom she had been wondering all
day long, picturing him as a hunted criminal fleeing from the law.
Chatting interestedly with him was another man, a young man in the
uniform of a lieutenant in the navy.
What did it all mean? Why was the black-mustached man watching them so
intently? Her eyes turned back to him. He was still sitting there,
leaning forward a little, his brows in a pucker of concentration, his
eyes still fixed on the pair opposite. It looked almost as if he was
trying to read their lips and tell what they were talking about.
Jane thrilled with excitement. The black-mustached man, she decided,
must be a detective. She recalled that he had said to her it was because
she lived at the address she did that she was available for the mission
for which he wanted her. Did he, she wondered, know about the mysterious
death in the street outside their apartment house? Was that the reason
he was spying on her neighbor? But what could be his motive in seeking
to involve her in the matter?
Unable to find satisfactory answers to her questions she gave herself up
interestedly to studying the faces of the two young men across the room.
Neither of them, she decided, could be much more than thirty. The face
that only a few hours before she had seen utterly convulsed with bitter
hate, now placid and smiling, was really an attractive one, not in the
least like a murderer's. Frank, alert blue eyes looked out from under an
intellectual forehead. A small military mustache lent emphasis to a
clean-shaven, forceful jaw. His flaxen hair was neatly trimmed. His
linen and clothing were immaculate, and the hand that curved around his
cup had long, tapering, well-manicured fingers. The cut of his clothing,
his manners, everything about him seemed American, yet there was an
indefinable something in his appearance that suggested foreign birth or
parentage, probably either Swedish or German. The man with him was
smaller and slighter. Despite the air of importance his uniform gave
him, it was palpable that he was the less forceful of the two, his
handsome face, it seemed to Jane, betraying weakness of character and a
fondness for the good things of life.
"Come, daughter," said Mrs. Strong, rising, "we must be going."
So intent was Jane on her study of the two men that her mother had to
speak twice to her.
"Yes, mother," she answered obediently, rising hastily as the hint of
annoyance in her mother's repeated remark brought her to a realization
of having been addressed.
Letting her mother and Mrs. Starrett precede her in the doorway she
paused to look back at the scene that had interested her so strongly.
What _could_ it mean? What was going on? How was she involved in it?
Her glance moved quickly from the watcher to the watched. The blond
young man caught her eye. Amazedly, it seemed to her, he stopped right
in the middle of what he was saying and sat there, his gaze fixed full
on her. She let her eyes fall, abashed, and turned to hasten after her
mother, but not so quickly did she turn but that she observed he had
hastily seized his cup and appeared to be drinking to her, not so much
impudently as admiringly.
Twice after the elevator had deposited her on the floor Jane had
approached the door of Room 708, and twice she had walked timorously
past it to the end of the hall, trying to muster up courage to enter. A
visit to a man's office in the business district was a novelty for her.
On the few previous excursions of the sort she had made she always had
been accompanied by one of her parents. She found herself wishing now
that she had taken her father into her confidence and had asked him to
go with her. Making shopping her excuse she had come down-town with Mr.
Strong but had gotten off at Astor Place, and waited over for
In her hand she held the card given to her by the black-mustached man
the afternoon before. As she studied it now her curiosity came to the
rescue of her fast-oozing courage. She must find out what it all meant,
whatever the risk or peril that might confront her. Boldly she returned
to Room 708 and opened the door. An office boy seated at a desk looked
"Is Mr. Fleck in?" she inquired timidly.
"Who wishes to see him?"
"Just say there's a lady wishes to speak to him," she faltered,
hesitating to give her name.
"Are you Miss Strong?" asked the boy abruptly, "because if you are, he's
She nodded, and the boy, jumping up, escorted her into an inner room. As
she entered nervously an alert-looking man, with graying hair and
mustache, rose courteously to greet her. In the quick glance she gave at
her surroundings she was conscious only of the great mahogany desk at
which he sat and behind it some filing cabinets and a huge safe, the
outer doors of which stood open.
"Sit down, won't you, Miss Strong," he said, placing a chair for her.
His manner and his cultured tone, everything about him, reassured her at
once. They conveyed to her that he was what she would have termed "a
gentleman," and with a little sigh of relief she seated herself.
"I'm afraid," said Mr. Fleck, smiling, "that Carter's method of
approaching you must have alarmed you."
"Carter--Oh, the black-mustached man."
"Yes, that describes him. You see, he did not wish to act definitely
without consulting his chief, yet the unexpected opportunity seemed far
too vital not to be utilized. He did not explain, did he, what it was we
wanted of you?"
"Indeed he didn't," said Jane, now wholly herself. "He was most
mysterious about it."
Mr. Fleck smiled amusedly.
"Carter has been an agent so long that being mysterious is second nature
"An agent--I don't understand."
"A Department agent," explained Mr. Fleck, adding, "engaged in secret
service work for the government."
Jane's exclamation was not so much of surprise as of delighted
realization, and the satisfaction expressed in her face was by no means
lost on Mr. Fleck.
"Would you object," he asked, moving his chair a little closer to hers,
"if, before I explain why you are here, I ask you a few questions--very
"Certainly not," said Jane.
"You are American-born, of course?"
"And your parents?"
"American for ten or twelve generations."
"How long have you lived in that apartment house on Riverside Drive?"
"For about five years."
"Do you know any of the other tenants in the house?"
"No--that is, none personally."
"Is your time fully occupied?"
"No, indeed it isn't, I've nothing to do at all, nothing except to try
to amuse myself."
"Good," said Mr. Fleck. "Now would you be willing to help in some secret
work for the United States Government, some work of the very highest
"Would I?" cried Jane, her eyes shining. "Gladly! Just try me."
"Don't answer too quickly," warned Mr. Fleck. "Remember, it will be real
work, serious work, not always pleasant, sometimes possibly a little
perilous. Remember, too, it must be done with absolute secrecy. You must
not let even your parents know that you are working with us. You must
pledge yourself to breathe no word of what you are doing or are asked to
do to a living soul. Everything that we may tell you is to be buried
forever from everybody. No one is to be trusted. The minute one other
person knows your secret it will no longer be a secret. Can we depend
"You may absolutely depend on me," said Jane slowly and soberly. "I give
you my word. I have been eager for ever so long to do something to help,
to really help. My father is doing all he can to aid the government.
He's on the Shipping Board."
Mr. Fleck nodded. Evidently he was aware of it already.
"My brother, my only brother," Jane continued, with a little catch in
her throat, "is Over There--somewhere Over There--fighting for his
government. If there is anything I can do to help the country he is
fighting for, the country he may die for, I pledge you I will do it
gladly with my heart, my soul, my body--everything."
"Thank you," said Mr. Fleck softly, taking her hand. "I felt sure you
were that sort of a girl. Now listen." He moved his chair still closer
to hers, and his voice became almost a whisper. "In the apartment next
to you there live two men,--Otto Hoff and his nephew, Fred. They have an
old German servant, but we can leave her out of it for the present. The
old man is a lace importer. Apparently they are both above
He stopped abruptly.
"You think they are spies--spies for Germany," questioned Jane
excitedly. "They're Germans, of course?"
"Otto Hoff is German-born, but he has been here for twenty years.
Several years ago he took out papers and became an American citizen."
"And the young man?"
Jane's tone was vibrant with interest. It must be the man she had seen
from her window whom they suspected most.
"He professes to be American-born."
"Oh," said the girl, rather disappointedly.
"But," continued Mr. Fleck, "there's something queer about it all. He
arrived in this country only three days before we went into the war. He
had a certificate, properly endorsed, giving his birthplace as
Cincinnati. He arrived on a Scandanavian ship. He speaks German as well
and as fluently as he speaks English, both without accent."
"Perhaps he was educated abroad," suggested Jane, rather amazed at
finding herself seeking to defend him.
"He must have been," said Fleck, "yet I find it hard to believe that
Germany at this time is letting any young German-American come home if
he's soldier material--and young Hoff's appearance certainly suggests
"It surely does."
"Unless," continued Fleck, "there was some special object in sending him
"You think," said Jane slowly, "they sent him here--to this country--as
"In our business we dare not think. We cannot merely conjecture. We must
prove," said Mr. Fleck. "Maybe the Hoffs are O.K. I do not know. Nobody
knows yet. Let me tell you some of the circumstances. This much we do
know. Von Bernstorff is gone. Von Papen is gone. Scores of active German
sympathizers and propagandists have been rounded up and interned or
imprisoned, yet, in spite of all we have done, their work goes on. A
vast secret organization, well supplied with funds, is constantly at
work in this country, trying to cripple our armies, trying to destroy
our munition plants, trying to corrupt our citizens, trying to disrupt
our Congress. Every move the United States makes is watched. As you
probably know, every day now large numbers of American troops are
embarking in transports in the Hudson."
"Yes," said Jane, "you can see them from our windows."
"Now then," said Mr. Fleck, lowering his voice impressively, "here is
the fact. Some one somewhere on Riverside Drive is keeping close and
constant tab on the warships and transports there in the river. We have
managed recently to intercept and decipher some code messages. These
messages told not only when the transports sailed but how many troops
were on each and how strong their convoy was. Where these messages
originate we have not yet learned. We are practically certain that some
one in our own navy, some black-hearted traitor wearing an officer's
uniform--perhaps several of them--is in communication with some one on
shore, betraying our government's most vital secrets."
"I can't believe it," cried Jane, "our own American officers traitors!"
"Undoubtedly some of them are," said Mr. Fleck regretfully. "The German
efficiency, for years looking forward to this war, carefully built up a
far-reaching spy system. Years ago, long before the war was thought
of--or at least before we in this country thought of it--many secret
agents of Wilhelmstrasse were deliberately planted here. Many of them
have been residents here for years, masking their real occupation by
engaging in business, utilizing their time as they waited for the war to
come by gathering for Germany all of our trade and commercial secrets.
Some of these spies have even become naturalized, and they and their
sons pass for good American citizens. In some cases they have even
Americanized their names. Insidiously and persistently they have worked
their way into places, sometimes into high places in our chemical
plants, our steel factories, yes, even into high places in our army and
navy and into governmental positions where they can gather information
first-hand. In no other country has it been so easy for them, because of
this one fact: so large a proportion of Uncle Sam's population is of
German birth or parentage. Why here in New York City alone there are
more than three-quarters of a million persons, either German-born
themselves or born of German parents. Many of them, the vast majority of
them, probably, are loyal to America, but think how the plenitude of
German names makes it easy for spies to get into our army and navy.
Besides that, they employ evil men of other nationalities as spies, the
criminal riffraff,--Danes, Swedes, Spaniards, Italians, Swiss and even
South Americans,--all of whom are free to go and come as they choose in
"I never realized before," said Jane, "how many Germans there were all
"In an effort to locate this particular band of naval spies," continued
Mr. Fleck, "we have combed the apartment houses and residences along
the Drive. Three places in particular are under suspicion. The apartment
of the Hoffs is one of these places. They moved in there thirty days
after this country went to war. Ordinarily, where the occupants of an
apartment are under suspicion, we take the superintendent of the
building partly into our confidence and plant operatives in the house,
or else we hire an apartment in the same building. In this case neither
course is practicable. The superintendent of your building is a
German-American and we dare not trust him, and there is no vacant
apartment that we can rent. We have been watching the Hoffs from the
outside as best we could. Carter, who has had charge of the shadowing,
accidentally happened to overhear you give your address. He had procured
a list of the tenants and remembered the location of your apartment. It
struck him at once that you would be a valuable ally if you would
consent to work with us."
"What is it that you wish me to do?" asked Jane wonderingly. "You'll
have to tell me how to go about it."
"All a good detective needs," said Mr. Fleck, "is, let us say, three
things--observation, addition and common sense. You must observe
everything closely, be able to put two and two together and use your
common sense. Do you know the Hoffs by sight?"
"Only by sight."
"They live in the next apartment on your floor, do they not?"
"Yes. Young Mr. Hoffs bedroom is the room next to mine."
"Good," cried Mr. Fleck. "Can you hear anything from the next apartment,
"No, only muffled sounds."
"The windows overlook the river and the transports, do they not?"
"Yes, the windows of Mr. Hoff's bedroom and the room next. Their
apartment is a duplicate of ours."
Mr. Fleck sprang up and crossed to the big safe. Opening an inner drawer
he took out a small metal disk and handed it to her. Jane looked at it
curiously. It bore no wording save the inscription "K-19."
"That," said Mr. Fleck, "is the only thing I can give you in the way of
credentials. Keep it somewhere safely concealed about your clothing and
never exhibit it except in case of extreme necessity. If ever you are in
peril any police officer will recognize it at once and will promptly
give you all the assistance possible."
"But," protested the girl, "I don't know yet what I am to do."
"For the present I am trusting to your resourcefulness to make
opportunities to help us. We are watching the house closely from the
outside. Carter will identify you to the other operatives. Once a day I
will expect you to call me up, not from your home but from a public
'phone. Here is my number. Say 'this is Miss Jones speaking,' and I will
know who it is. I can communicate with you by note without arousing
"Oh, yes, certainly."
"If at any time I have to call you on the 'phone, or if any of the other
operatives want to communicate with you the password will be 'I am
speaking for Miss Jones.'"
"Isn't that exciting--a secret password," cried Jane enthusiastically.
"If you can manage it without compromising yourself too seriously, I
wish you would make the young man's acquaintance."
"That will be simple," said Jane, remembering the admiring way in which
he had raised his cup in her direction as she left the hotel.
"If possible find out who their visitors are in the apartment and keep
your eyes open for any sort of signalling to the transports. If ever
there is an opportunity to get hold of notes or mail delivered to either
of them, don't hesitate to steam it open and copy it."
"Must I?" said Jane. "That hardly seems right or fair."
"Of course it's right," cried Mr. Fleck warmly. "Think of the lives of
our soldiers that are at stake. The devilish ingenuity of these German
spies must be thwarted at all costs. They seem to be able to discover
every detail of our plans. Only two days ago one of our transports was
thoroughly inspected from stem to stern. Two hours later twenty-six
hundred soldiers were put aboard her on their way to France. Just by
accident, as they were about to sail, a time-bomb was discovered in the
coal bunkers, a bomb that would have sent them all to kingdom come."
"Somebody aboard is a traitor. Somebody knew when that inspection was
made. Somebody put that bomb in place afterward. That shows you the kind
of enemies we are fighting."
Jane shuddered. She was thinking of the sailing of another transport,
the one that had carried her brother to France.
"Anything seems right after that," she said simply.
"Yes," said Mr. Fleck, "there is only one effective way to fight those
spying devils. We must stop at nothing. They stop at nothing--not even
murder--to gain their ends."
"I know that," said Jane hastily. "I saw something myself you ought to
As briefly as she could she described the scene she had witnessed in the
early morning hours from her bedroom window, the man following the
younger Hoff, Hoff's discovery and pursuit of him around the corner and
of his return alone.
"And in the morning," she concluded, "they found a man's body in the
side street. He had a bullet through his heart. There was a revolver in
his hand. The newspapers said that the police and the coroner were
satisfied that it was a suicide. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Hoff's face
when he came back from around that corner. It was all convulsed with
hate, the most terrible expression I ever saw. I'm almost certain he
murdered that man. I'm sure it wasn't a suicide."
"I'm sure, too, that it was no suicide," said Mr. Fleck gravely. "The
man who was found there was one of my men, K-19, the man whose badge I
have just given you. He had been detailed to shadow the Hoffs."
THE CLUE IN THE BOOK
Subway passengers sitting opposite Jane Strong as she rode up-town from
Mr. Fleck's office, if they observed her at all--and most of them
did--saw only a slim, good-looking young girl, dressed in a chic
tailormade suit, crowned with a dashing Paris hat tilted at the proper
angle to display best the sheen of her black, black hair, which after
the prevailing fashion was pulled forward becomingly over her ears.
Outwardly Jane was unchanged, but within her nerves were all atingle at
the thought of the tremendous and fascinating responsibility so
unexpectedly thrust upon her. Her mind, too, was aflame with patriotic
ardor, but coupled with these new sensations was a persisting sense of
dread, an intangible, unforgettable feeling of horror that kept cropping
up every time her fingers touched the little metal disk in her purse.
The man who had carried it yesterday, the other "K-19" who had
undertaken to shadow those people next door, now lay dead with a bullet
through his heart. Was there, she wondered, a similar peril confronting
her? Would her life be in danger, too? Was that the reason Mr. Fleck had
told her of her predecessor's fate--to warn her how desperate were the
men against whom she was to match her wits? Yet no sense of fear that
projected itself into her busy brain as she cogitated over the task
before her held her back. If anything she was rather thrilled at the
prospect of meeting actual danger. What bothered her most was how she
could best go about aiding Mr. Fleck and his men in their work.
Her opportunity came far more quickly than she had anticipated. She had
gotten off the train at the 96th Street station, purposing to walk the
twenty odd blocks to her home as she pondered over the work that lay
ahead of her. Busy with a horde of struggling new thoughts she proceeded
along Broadway, for once in her life unheeding the rich gowns and
feminine dainties so alluringly displayed in the shop windows. Suddenly
she pulled herself together with a start. Directly ahead of her,
plodding along in the same direction, was a figure that from behind
seemed strangely familiar. She quickened her step until she caught up
sufficiently with the man ahead to get a good glimpse of his side face.
Nervously she caught her breath. Without any doubt it was the gray Van
Dyke beard of old Otto Hoff.
Where was he going? What was he doing? She paused and looked behind her,
scanning the pavement on both sides of the street. She was half-hoping
that she would discover Carter or some of his men shadowing their
quarry, but her hope was vain. There was no one in the block at the
moment but herself and Mr. Hoff. If Fleck's men had been watching his
movements, the old man certainly seemed to have eluded them.
What should she do? Vividly there flashed into her mind her chiefs
"Watch everything," he had charged her. "Remember everything, report
everything. No detail is too unimportant. If you see one of the Hoffs
leave the house, don't merely report to me that the old man or the young
man left the house about three o'clock. That won't do at all. I want to
know the exact time. Was it six minutes after three or eleven minutes
after three? I must know what direction he went, if he was alone, how
long he was absent, where he went, what he did, to whom he talked. Here
in my office I take your reports, Carter's reports, a dozen other
reports, and study them together. Things that in themselves seem
trifling, unimportant, of no value, coupled with other seemingly
unimportant trifles sometimes develop most important evidence."
To prove his point he had told her of the seemingly innocent wireless
message that an operator, listening in, had picked up, at a time when
Germans were still permitted to use the wireless station on Long Island
for commercial messages to the Fatherland. On the face of it, it was the
mere announcement of the death of a relative with a few details. But a
little later the same operator caught the same message coming from
another part of the country, with the details slightly different, and
still later another message of the same purport. Evidently, by comparing
the messages, the United States authorities had been able to work out
Remembering this, Jane decided that it was her particular duty just now
to follow the old German and note everything he did. For several blocks
she trailed along behind him, without arousing any suspicion on his part
that he was being followed. He stopped once to light a cigarette, the
girl behind him diverting suspicion by hastily turning to a shop window.
Again he stopped, this time before the display of viands in the window
of a delicatessen store. Thoughtfully Jane noted the number, observing,
too, that the name of the proprietor above the door was obviously
Teutonic. She was half-expecting to see her quarry turn in here, but he
walked on to the middle of the next block, where he entered a
Hesitating but a second, to decide on a course of action, she followed
him boldly into the store. She felt that she must ascertain just what he
was doing in there. As she entered she saw that in the back part of the
store was a lending library. Mr. Hoff had gone back to it and was
inspecting the books displayed there. Unhesitatingly she, too,
approached the book counter.
"Have you 'Limehouse Nights'?" she asked the attendant, naming the
first book that came into her head. She had a copy of the book at home,
but that seemed to be the only title she could think of.
"We have several copies," the girl in charge answered, "but I think they
are all out. I'll look."
As the clerk examined the shelves, Jane kept up a desultory talk with
her, questioning her about various books on the shelves, all the while
watching the old German out of the corner of her eye. His back was
toward her, and he seemed to be examining various books on the shelves,
turning over the pages as if unable to decide what he wanted. Curious as
to what his taste in reading was, Jane endeavored to locate each book
that he removed from its place, her idea being that she would later try
to discover their titles. To her amazement she found that it was
invariably the third book in each shelf that he removed and
examined--the third from the end. It did not appear to her that he was
examining the contents of the pages so much as searching them as if he
expected to find something there.
All at once, as she furtively watched from behind him, she heard him
give a little pleased grunt and she saw him picking out from between the
leaves of the book a fragment of paper, which he held concealed in his
hand. Watching closely, Jane saw him thrust this same hand into his
trousers pocket, and when he brought it out she was certain that the
hand was empty. What did this curious performance mean? What was the
little slip of paper he had found in the book? Why had he concealed it
in his pocket?
Still keeping her attention riveted on him, she picked up a book to mask
her occupation and pretended to be turning its pages. She was glad she
had done so, for a minute later old Hoff wheeled suddenly and looked
sharply about him. Apparently having his suspicions disarmed by seeing
only herself and the clerk there, he turned again to the bookshelves.
Jane this time saw him thrust his fingers into his waistcoat pocket and
withdraw therefrom,--she was almost certain of it,--a little slip of
paper. She saw him remove from the second row of books the fifth from
the end, open it quickly and close it again and then restore it to its
place. As he did so he turned to leave the store.
"Didn't you find anything to read to-day, Mr. Hoff?" the clerk asked.
"Nodding," he answered. "You keep novels, trash, nodding worth while."
Her nerves aquiver, Jane waited until he was out of the store and then
stepped briskly to the place where he had stood. Hastily she pulled
forth the fifth book from the end in the second row. Turning its pages
she came upon what she had anticipated,--a strip of yellow manila
paper,--the paper she was sure she had seen him take from his pocket.
Hastily she examined it, expecting to find some message written there.
To her chagrin it was just a meaningless jumble of figures in
534 5 2
331 54 6
644 76 3
49 12 9
540 30 12
390 3 2
519 3 6
327 20 2
Her first thought was to thrust the little scrap of paper in her purse
and start again in pursuit of old Hoff, but a sudden light began to dawn
on her. This was a cipher message, of course. The old man had left it
here for some one to come and get. If she followed Hoff, how was she to
discover who the message was for? Puzzled as to what she should do, she
borrowed a pencil from the clerk on the pretense of writing a postal and
hastily copied the figures, after which she restored the slip to the
book in which she had found it.
Glancing about undecidedly, wondering if it would do to take the clerk
into her confidence, wishing she had some means of reaching Mr. Fleck
and asking his advice, she spied in a drug-store just across the street
a telephone booth. She could telephone from there and at the same time
keep her eye on the store. Quickly she did so, twisting her head around
all the time she was 'phoning to make sure that no one entered opposite.
"Is this Mr. Fleck?" she asked. "This is Miss Jones."
"So soon?" came back his voice. "What has happened? What is the matter?
Have you changed your mind?"
"Not at all," she answered indignantly. "I've discovered something
already--a cipher message."
Even over the wire she could sense the eagerness in Mr. Fleck's tone,
and a sense of achievement brought a radiant glow to her cheek.
"I ran into that man--you know whom--"
"The young one?" he interrupted.
"No, the uncle."
"Yes, yes, go on," cried Mr. Fleck impatiently.
"I followed him along Broadway after I got off at 96th Street and into a
library and stationery store. I watched him fuss over the books there,
and I think he got a slip of paper with a message out of one of them."
"Good," cried Mr. Fleck, "that is something new. Go on."
"And then he slipped a paper into a book--"
"Did you notice what book?"
"I don't know the title. It was the fifth book from the end on the
second shelf, and I got the paper and copied it."
"Splendid. What did the message say?"
"It's just a lot of figures. I put it back after copying it, and I am in
a drug-store across the street where I can watch to see if any one comes
to get the message. What shall I do now?"
"Can you remain there fifteen minutes without arousing suspicion?"
"Certainly. I'll say I am waiting for some one."
"Good. I'll get in touch with Carter at once. He'll tell you what to do
when he arrives."
Impatiently Jane sat there, keeping vigilant watch on the entrance
across the street, determined to be able to describe minutely each
person that entered. From time to time she surreptitiously studied the
postcard on which she had jotted down the mysterious numbers. How
utterly meaningless they looked. Surely it would be impossible for any
one, even Mr. Fleck, to decipher any message that these figures might
convey. It would be impossible unless one had the key. Figures could be
made to mean anything at all. She doubted if her discovery could be of
much importance after all, yet certainly Mr. Fleck had seemed quite
excited about it.
She spied Carter passing in a taxi. Two other men were with him. Her
first impulse was to run out in the street and signal to him, but she
waited, wondering what she should do. She was glad she had not acted
impulsively, for a moment later Carter entered alone, evidently having
left the car somewhere around the corner. She expected that he would
address her at once, but that was not Carter's way. He went to the soda
counter and ordered something to drink, his eyes all the while studying
his surroundings. Presently he pretended to discover her sitting there.
To all appearances it might have been an entirely casual meeting of
"Good-morning, Miss Jones," he said quite cordially, extending his hand.
"I'm lucky to have met you, for my daughter gave me a message for you."
He put just a little stress on the words "my daughter" and Jane
understood that he was referring to "Mr. Fleck."
"Indeed," she replied, "what is it?"
"She wants you to go down-town at once and meet her at Room 708--you
know the building."
"Aren't you coming, too?"
"Not right away. I have some errands to do in the neighborhood. I've got
to buy a book for a birthday present. There's a library around here
somewhere, isn't there?"
"Just across the street," said Jane, entering into the spirit of the
masked conversation with interest. "I was looking at a fine book over
there a few minutes ago. You'll find it on the second shelf--the fifth
book from the end, on the north side of the store."
"I'll remember that," said Carter, repeating, "the fifth book on the
"That's right," said Jane, as they left the drug-store together.
"Which way did the old man go?" asked Carter.
"Down Broadway--toward home," she replied. "I wanted to follow him, but
it seemed more important to stay here and watch to see if any one came
for the message he left there in the book."
"You did just right, and the Chief is tickled to death. He wants to see
you right away. You have a copy of the message, haven't you?"
"Yes, do you wish to see it?"
"No, but he does. Has anybody entered the store since you were there?"
"Nobody, that is no one but a couple of girls."
"What did they look like? Describe them."
"Why," Jane faltered, "I did not really notice. I was not looking for
girls. I was watching to see that no other men entered the store."
Carter shook his head.
"You ought to have spotted them, too. You never can tell who the Germans
will employ. They have women spies, too,--clever ones."
"I never thought of their using girls," protested Jane.
"Humph," snapped Carter, "ain't we using you? Ain't one of our best
little operatives right this minute working in a nursegirl's garb
pulling a baby carriage with a baby in it up and down Riverside Drive?
Well, it can't be helped. You'd better beat it down-town to the Chief
"I'll take a subway express," said Jane, feeling somewhat crestfallen
at his implied suggestion of failure.
Twenty-five minutes later found her once more in Mr. Fleck's office.
Thrilling with the excitement of it all she told him in detail how she
had followed old Hoff and of his peculiar actions in the bookstore.
"And here," she said, presenting the postcard, "is an exact copy of the
cipher message he left there. I copied every figure, in the columns,
just as they were set down. I don't suppose though you'll be able to
make head or tail out of it. I know I can't."
"Don't be too sure of that," smiled Chief Fleck, as he took the card.
"When you get used to codes, most of them identify themselves at the
first glance--at least they tell what kind of a code it is. That's one
thing about the Germans that makes their spy work clumsy at times. They
are so methodical that they commit everything to writing. Now the most
important things I know are right in here"--he tapped his head. "Every
once in a while they ransack my rooms, but they never find anything
worth while. Now this code"--he was studying the card intently--"seems
to be one of a sort that our friends from Wilhelmstrasse are
ridiculously fond of using. It is manifestly a book code."
"A book code," Jane repeated perplexedly. "I don't understand."
"It is very simple when two persons who wish to communicate with each
other secretly both have a copy of some book they have agreed to use.
They write their message out and then go through the book locating the
words of the message by page, line and word. That's what the three
columns mean. Our only problem is to discover which is the book they
both have. They often employ the Bible or a dictionary or--"
He stopped abruptly and studied the columns of figures.
"This code," he went on, "on its face is from a book that has at least
544 pages. One of the pages has at least 76 lines--that's the middle
column--so the book must be set in small type."
"What book do you suppose it is?" asked Jane interestedly. She was glad
now that she had listened to Carter. She was sure she was going to like
being in the service. It was all so interesting, and she was learning so
many fascinating things.
"If my theory is right those letters indicate that the book used was an
almanac. That's the book that Wilhelmstrasse made use of when a wireless
message was sent in cipher to the German ambassador directing him to
warn Americans not to sail on the Lusitania. They betrayed themselves at
the Embassy by sending out to buy a copy of this almanac. Let's see how
our theory works out."
Taking up an almanac that lay on his desk he began turning to the pages
indicated in the first column of figures, checking off the lines
indicated in the second column and putting a ring around the words
marked by the third column of figures.
"Let's see--page 534--fifth line--second word--that's (eight). Now
then--page 331--that's the chronology of the war in the almanac, so I
guess we are on the right track--fifty-fourth line--sixth
"Isn't it wonderful!" cried Jane.
"Damn them," he exploded. "I know we are on the right track. Some
transports with our troops sailed this morning, and already the German
spies are spreading the news, hoping to get it to one of their
Quickly he ran through the rest of the cipher, writing it out as he went
As Fleck finished the message his face became almost black with rage.
"Damn them," he cried again, "in spite of everything we do they get
track of all our troop movements. Their information, whenever we succeed
in intercepting it, is always accurate. If I had my way I'd lock up
every German in the country until the war was over, and I'd shoot a lot
of those I locked up. Until the whole country realizes that we are
living in a nest of spies--that there are German spies all around us, in
every city, in every factory, in every regiment, on every ship,
everywhere right next door to us--this country never can win the war."
"What does the '97' at the end mean?" questioned Jane timidly, a little
bit frightened at his outburst, yet more than ever realizing the vast
importance of his work--and hers.
"Oh, that's nothing. Probably old Hoff's number. Most spies are known
just by numbers."
"Yes, of course," said Jane, flushing as she recalled that she herself
was now "K-19." Was she a spy? Was Mr. Fleck a chief of spies? She
always had looked on a spy as a despicable sort of person, yet surely
the work in which they both were engaged was vital to American success
at arms--a patriotic and important service for one's country.
"I suppose," she said thoughtfully, unwilling to pursue the chain of her
own thought any further, "that there is evidence enough now to arrest
old Mr. Hoff right away."
"You bet there is," said Mr. Fleck emphatically, "but that is the last
thing I am thinking of doing yet. He is only one link in a great chain
that extends from our battleships and transports there in the North
River clear into the heart of Berlin. We've got to locate both ends of
the chain before we start smashing the links. We've got to find who it
is in this country that is supplying the money for all their nefarious
work, from whom they get their orders, how they smuggle their news out.
Most of all we have got to find where the end of the chain is fastened
in our own navy. The traitors there are the black-hearted rascals I
would most like to get. They are the ones we've got to get."
"Yes, indeed," assented Jane, suddenly recalling the navy lieutenant she
had seen in the Ritz chatting so confidentially with old Otto Hoff's
nephew. Was he, she wondered, one of the links in the terrible chain?
Was he the end--the American end of the chain?
"We're certain about the old man now," said Fleck, rising as if to
indicate that the interview was at an end. "We've got to get the young
fellow next. There is nothing in this to implicate him. That's your job.
Find out all you can about him. Get acquainted with him, if possible.
That's one of the weakest spots about all German spies. They can't help
boasting to women. Try to get to know this Fred Hoff. It's most
"I'll do more than try," said Jane spiritedly. "I'll get acquainted
right away. I'll make him talk to me."
ON THE TRAIL
Few men, even fathers, realize how utterly inexperienced is the average
well-brought-up girl, just emerged from her teens, in the affairs of the
great mysterious world that lies about her. A boy, in his youth living
over again the history of his progenitors, escapes his nurse to become
an adventurer. At ten he is a pirate, at twelve a train robber, at
fourteen an aviator, actually living in all his thoughts and experiences
the life of his hero of the moment, learning all the while that the
world about him is full of adventurers like himself, ready to dispute
his claims at the slightest pretext, or to carry off his booty by
prevailing physical force.
Well-brought-up girls seldom are fortunate enough to have such educative
experiences. Their friends are selected for them, gentle untaught
creatures like themselves. Few of them learn much of the practical side
of life. A boy is delighted at knowing the toughest boy in the
neighborhood. A girl's ambitions always are to know girls "nicer" than
she is. The average girl emerges into womanhood with her eyes blinded,
uninformed on the affairs of life, business, politics, untrained in
anything useful or practical, knowing more of romance and history than
she does of present-day facts.
If Chief Fleck had understood how really inexperienced Jane Strong
actually was, it is a question whether he would have ventured to entrust
so important a mission to her as he had done. Jane herself, as she left
his office, aroused by his revelations of the treacherous work of
Germany's spies, and uplifted by his appeal to her patriotism, felt
enthusiastically capable of obeying his instructions. It seemed very
simple, as he had talked about it. All she had to do was to get
acquainted with the young man next door. Yet the further the subway
carried her from Mr. Fleck's office after her second visit there that
morning, the more her heart sank within her, and the fuller her mind
became of misgivings.
In a big city next door in an apartment house is almost the same thing
as miles away. She ransacked her brain, trying to remember some
acquaintance who might be likely to know the Hoffs, but failed utterly
to recall any one. She reviewed all possible means of getting acquainted
but could find none that seemed practical. Never in her life had she
spoken to a man without having been introduced to him--except of course
to Carter and Mr. Fleck, and these men, she told herself, were
government officials, something like policemen, only nicer. At any rate,
she knew them only in a business way, not socially. If she was to be
successful in learning much about the Hoffs--about young Mr. Hoff--she
felt that it was necessary to make them social acquaintances.
She must manage to meet Frederic Hoff in some proper way, but how? She
thought of such flimsy tricks as dropping a handkerchief or a purse in
the elevator some time when he happened to be in it, but rejected the
plan as disadvantageous. "Nice" girls did not do that sort of thing, and
even though she was seeking to entrap her neighbor she did not for a
moment wish him to consider her as belonging to the other sort. It
rather annoyed her to find that she cared what kind of an impression she
made on him. What difference did it make what a German spy thought of
her, especially a murderer? Yet, she argued with herself, the better the
impression she made at first the more likely she would be to gain his
confidence, and that she knew would delight Mr. Fleck. Was Frederic
Hoff, too, really, she wondered, a spy? Her face colored as she recalled
the mental picture she last had had of him, gallantly and admiringly
raising his cup to her as she left the Ritz, not obtrusively or
impudently, but so subtly that she was sure that no one had observed it
but herself. It seemed preposterous to associate the thought of murder
with a man like him.
As she entered the apartment house she was arguing still with herself
about him. Her intuition told her that Frederic Hoff was a gentleman,
and how could a gentleman be what Mr. Fleck seemed to think he was? As
the door swung to behind her she gave a little quick breath of delight,
for she had caught sight of a uniformed figure standing by the
switchboard. She had recognized him at once. It was the naval
lieutenant who had been at the Ritz. She heard him saying to the girl at
"Tell Mr. Hoff, young Mr. Hoff, that Lieutenant Kramer is here. I'll
wait for him down-stairs."
Quick as a flash a course of action came into her mind. She saw an
opportunity too good to be neglected. She hurried forward to where the
lieutenant was standing, her hand outstretched, with a smile of
recognition--feigned, but well-feigned--on her lips.
"Why, Lieutenant Kramer," she cried, "how delightful. Have you really
kept your promise at last and come to see the Strongs?"
She could hardly restrain her amusement as she watched the embarrassed
young officer strive in vain to recall where it was that he had met her.
She had relied on the fact that the men in the navy meet so many girls
at social functions that it is impossible for any of them to remember
all they had met.
"Really, Miss--" he stammered, struggling for some fitting explanation.
"Don't tell me," she warned reprovingly, "that it isn't Jane Strong
that you are here to see, after all those nice things you said to me
that day we had tea aboard your ship."
She was hoping he would not insist on going into particulars as to which
ship it was. Fortunately she had been to functions on several of the war
vessels, so that she might find a loop-hole if he was too insistent
"Indeed, Miss Strong," said Kramer, gallantly pretending to recall her,
"I'm delighted to see you again. I've been intending to come to see you
for ever so long, but you understand how busy we are now. In fact, it
was business that brought me here to-day. I'm calling on Mr. Hoff, who
lives here, to take him to lunch to discuss some important matters."
At his last phrase Jane's heart thrilled. What important matters could
there be that a navy lieutenant could fittingly discuss with a German,
with the nephew of the man whose secret code message they had just
succeeded in reading? Determining within herself to keep fast hold on
the beginning she had made, she masked her real thoughts and let her
face express frank disappointment.
"How horrid of you," she continued, "when I was just going to insist
that you stay and have luncheon with us."
He was protesting that it was quite out of the question when the
elevator brought down her mother, whom Jane at once summoned as an ally,
feeling sure that considering how many men of her daughter's
acquaintance she had met, it would be perfectly safe to keep up the
"Oh, mother," she cried, "you remember Lieutenant Kramer, don't you?
I've just been urging him to stay and have luncheon with us. Do help me
"Of course I remember Mr. Kramer," fibbed the matron cordially, all
unaware of her daughter's duplicity. "Do stay, Mr. Kramer, and have
luncheon with Jane. I ordered luncheon for four, expecting to be home,
and now I've been called away, but your aunt is there to chaperone you.
It spoils the servants so to prepare meals and have no one to eat them,
to say nothing of displeasing Mr. Hoover. It's really your duty--your
duty as a patriot--to stay and prevent a food-waste."
"I've just been trying to explain to your daughter that I was taking
Mr. Hoff to luncheon with me. Here he is now."
Mrs. Strong's eyes swept the tall figure approaching appraisingly and
apparently was pleased with his aspect. As Mr. Hoff was presented she
hastened to include him in the invitation to luncheon.
"Have pity on a poor girl doomed to eat a lonely luncheon by her
parent's neglect," urged Jane. "Really, you must come, both of you. Nice
men to talk to are so scarce in these war times that I have no intention
of letting you escape."
"I'm in Kramer's hands," said Frederic Hoff gallantly, "but if he takes
me to some wretched hotel instead of accepting such a charming
invitation as this, my opinion of him as a host will be shattered."
"But," struggled Kramer, realizing that it must be a case of mistaken
identity and sure now that he never had met either Jane or her mother
before, "we have some business to talk over."
"Business always can wait a fair lady's pleasure," said Hoff. "Is this
ruthless war making you navy men ungallant?"
With a mock gesture of surrender, and as a matter of fact, not at all
averse to pursuing the adventure further, Lieutenant Kramer permitted
Jane to lead the way to the Strong apartment.
Soon, with the familiarity of youth and high spirits, the three of them
were merrily chatting on the weather, the war, the theater and all
manner of things. Jane, in the midst of the conversation, could not help
noting that Hoff had seated himself in a chair by the window where he
seemed to be keeping a vigilant eye on the ships that could be seen from
there. Even at the luncheon table he got up once and walked to the
window to look out, making some clumsy excuse about the beautiful view.
Determined to press the opportunity, Jane endeavored to turn the
conversation into personal channels.
"You are an American," she said turning to Hoff, "are you not? I'm
surprised that you are not in uniform, too."
"A man does not necessarily need to be in uniform to be serving his
government," he replied. "Perhaps I am doing something more important."
"But you are an American, aren't you?" she persisted almost impudently,
driven on by her eagerness to learn all she possibly could about him.
"I was born in Cincinnati," he replied hesitantly.
She could not help observing how diplomatically he had parried both her
questions. Mentally she recorded his exact words with the idea in her
mind of repeating what he had said verbatim to her chief.
"Then you _are_ doing work for the government?"
Intensely she waited for his answer. Surely he could find no way of
evading such a direct inquiry as this.
"Every man who believes in his own country," he answered, modestly
enough, yet with a curious reservation that puzzled her, "in times like
these is doing his bit."
She felt far from satisfied. If he was born in America, if he really was
an American at heart, his replies would have been reassuring, but his
name was Hoff. His uncle was a German-American, a proved spy or at least
a messenger for spies. If her guest still considered Prussia his
fatherland the answers he had made would fit equally well.
"You're just as provokingly secretive as these navy men," she taunted
him. "When I try to find out now where any of my friends in the navy are
stationed they won't tell me a thing, will they, Mr. Kramer?"
"I'll tell you where they all are," said Lieutenant Kramer. "Every
letter I've had from abroad recently from chaps in the service has had
the same address--'A deleted port.'"
"I really think the government is far too strict about it," she
continued. "My only brother is over there now fighting. All we know is
that he is 'Somewhere in France.' War makes it hard on all of us."
"Yet after all," said Hoff soberly, "what are our hardships here
compared to what people are suffering over there, in France, in Belgium,
in Germany, even in the neutral countries. They know over there, they
have known for three years, greater horrors than we can imagine."
The longer she chatted with him, the more puzzled Jane became. He
seemed to speak with sincerity and feeling. Her intuition told her that
he was a man of honor and high ideals, and yet in everything he said
there was always reserve, hesitation, caution, as if he weighed every
word before uttering it. Intently she listened, hoping to catch some
intonation, some awkward arrangement of words that might betray his
tongue for German, but the English he spoke was perfect--not the English
of the United States nor yet of England, but rather the manner of speech
that one hears from the world-traveler. Question after question she put,
hoping to trap him into some admission, but skilfully he eluded her
efforts. She decided at last to try more direct tactics.
"Your name has a German sound. It is German, isn't it?" she asked.
"I told you I was born in Cincinnati," he answered laughingly. "Some
people insist that that is a German province."
"But you have been in Germany, haven't you?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering if you had not lived in that country?"
"I could not well have been there without having lived there, could I?"
Kramer came to her rescue.
"Of course he has lived there. Mr. Hoff and I both attended German
universities. That was what brought us together at the start--our
"Did you attend the same university?" asked Jane. She felt that at last
she was on the point of finding out something worth while.
"No," said Kramer, "unfortunately it was not the same university."
She caught her breath and blushed guiltily. If Mr. Kramer had attended a
German university he could not be an Annapolis graduate. He must be a
recent comer in the American navy. She knew that since the war began
some civilians had been admitted. It had just dawned on her that if this
was the case, since visiting on board ships was no longer permitted, it
clearly was impossible for her to have met him at any function on a
warship. He must have known all along that she knew she never had met
him. He must have been aware, too, that her mother did not know him.
She felt that she was getting into perilous waters and fearful of making
more blunders refrained from further questions. A vague alarm began to
agitate her. If he had detected her ruse when she first had spoken to
him, why had he not admitted it? What had been his purpose in accepting
her invitation and in bringing into it his German friend, Mr. Hoff?
The ringing of the telephone bell came as a welcome interruption. A maid
summoned her to answer a call, and excusing herself from the table she
went to the 'phone desk in the foyer.
"Hello, is this you, Miss Strong?"
It was Carter's voice, but from the anxious stress in it she judged that
he was in a state of great perturbation.
"Yes, it is Jane Strong speaking," she answered.
"You know who this is?"
"Of course. I recognize your voice. It's Mr. C--"
A warning "sst" over the 'phone checked her before she pronounced the
name and starting guiltily she turned to look over her shoulder,
feeling relieved to see the two men still chatting at the table,
apparently paying no attention to her.
"I understand," she answered quickly. "What is it?"
"You know that book I told you I was going to buy?"
"It's not there."
"What's that? The book is gone!"
"The book is there all right, but it's not the book I want."
"Are you sure," she questioned, "that you looked at the right book?"
"I looked at the one you told me to."
"Are you certain--the fifth book on the second shelf."
She heard a movement behind her and turning quickly saw Frederic Hoff
standing behind her, his hat and stick in hand. Panic-stricken, she hung
up the receiver abruptly. Had he been standing there listening? How much
had he heard? He would know, of course, what "the fifth book on the
second shelf" signified. Had her carelessness betrayed to him the fact
that he and his uncle were being closely watched? Anxiously she studied
his face for some intimation of his thoughts. He was standing there
smiling at her, and to her agitated brain it seemed that in his smile
there was something sardonic, defying, challenging.
"I cannot tell you, Miss Strong, how much I have enjoyed your
hospitality. You made the time so interesting that I had no idea it was
so late. You will excuse me if I tear myself away at once. I have some
important business that demands my immediate attention."
"I hope you'll come again," she managed to stammer, "and you, too, Mr.
White-faced and terrified she escorted them out, leaving the telephone
bell jangling angrily. As the door closed behind them, she sank weak and
faint into a chair, not daring yet to go again to the 'phone until she
was sure they were out of hearing.
What was the "immediate business" that was calling them away so
suddenly? She was more than afraid that her incautious use of the phrase
"the fifth book on the second shelf" had betrayed her. What else could
it mean? Why else would they have departed so abruptly?
Mustering up her strength and courage she went once more to the 'phone.
"Hello, hello, is that you, Miss Strong? Some one cut us off," Carter's
voice was impatiently saying.
"Hello, Mr. Carter," she called, "this is Jane Strong speaking. Where
can I see you at once? It's most important."
"I'll be sitting on a bench along the Drive two blocks north of your
house inside of ten minutes."
"I'll meet you there," she answered quickly, with a feeling of relief.
The situation was becoming far too complicated, she felt, for her to
handle alone. Carter would know what to do. If Hoff and Kramer had
learned from her about the trailing of old Hoff, the sooner it was
reported to more experienced operatives than she was the better.
"Don't speak to me when you see me sitting on the bench," warned Carter.
"Just sit down there beside me and wait till I make sure no one is
watching us. I'll speak to you when it's safe."
"I understand," she answered. "Good-by."
As she hastened to don her hat and coat she was almost overwhelmed by a
revulsion of feeling. Two days ago the world about her had seemed a
carefree, pleasant, even if sometimes boresome place. Now she
shudderingly saw it stripped of its mask and revealed for the first time
in all its hideousness, a place of murders and spying and secret
machinations. People about her were no longer more or less interesting
puppets in a play-world. They were vivid actualities, scheming and
planning to thwart and overcome each other. Almost she wished that her
dream had been undisturbed and that she had not been waked up to the
realities. Almost she was tempted to abandon her new-found occupation.
Then, once more, a feeling of patriotic fervor swept over her. She
thought of her brother fighting somewhere in the trenches. She pictured
to herself the other brave soldiers in the great ships in the Hudson.
She remembered the evil plotters with their death-dealing bombs,
striving to bring about a ghastly end for them all before they might
strengthen the lines of the Allies. She thought, too, of those
humanity-defying U-boats, forever at their devilish work, guided to
their prey by crafty, spying creatures right here in New York, more than
likely by the very people next door.
With her pretty lips set in a resolute line she left the house and
walked rapidly north. Come what may she would go on with it. Her country
needed her, and that was all-sufficient.
THE MISSING MESSAGE
After Jane left Carter at the drug-store, he did not cross immediately
to the bookshop opposite. His detective work was not of that sort. He
strolled leisurely around the corner long enough to give some directions
to his two aides waiting there and then, moving across the street,
paused in front of the window of books as if something there had
attracted his attention. All the while he was keeping a sharp eye for
any person who looked as if they might be connected in any way with old
Hoff. Satisfied that his entrance was unobserved he strolled casually in
and began looking over the volumes in the lending library. The lone
clerk in the store--a young woman--at first volunteered some
suggestions, but as they went unheeded she returned to her work of
posting up the accounts.
As soon as her attention was occupied Carter moved at once to the end
of the shelf that Miss Strong had indicated and removed the fifth book.
To his amazement he found nothing whatever concealed between the leaves.
The books on either side on the same shelf failed to yield up anything.
He tried the shelf above and the shelf below. Perhaps Miss Strong had
been mistaken in the directions. He examined the books at the other end.
There was nothing there. He recalled that the girl had said that no one
except two girls had entered the store between the time she had
discovered and copied the cipher and the time of his arrival. If these
girls had not taken the message away there could be only one other
explanation--the clerk in the bookstore must have removed it and
concealed it somewhere.
"Which of the war books do you think the best?" he asked for the purpose
of starting a conversation.
"There's that many it is hard to say, sir," the young woman answered.
Something in her inflection made him look sharply at her. Her accent
surely was English, or possibly Canadian. A few judicious questions
quickly brought out the information that she came from Liverpool and
that she had three brothers in the British army. Carter decided that it
was preposterous to suspect her of being in league with German agents.
There was only one other thing that could have happened. Some one
else--some one who had eluded Miss Strong's notice--had removed the
Promptly he had telephoned to her to meet him. He was glad that he had
done so, for her evident perturbation as she answered the 'phone both
interested and puzzled him. Pausing just long enough to report to Chief
Fleck, he hastened to the rendezvous, arriving there first. He selected
a bench apart from the others, where the wall jutted out from the walk,
and seating himself, idled there as if merely watching the river. In
obedience with his instructions Jane, when she arrived, planted herself
nonchalantly on the same bench, and paying no attention to him,
pretended to be reading a letter.
Presently Carter rose and stretching himself lazily, as if about to
leave, turned to face the Drive, his keen eyes taking in all the
passers-by. Apparently satisfied, he sat down abruptly and turned to
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