Old Search and the Strangers by Major A. F. Grant
Professional Sleuth

Old Search and the Strangers

OR, The Thugs of Gotham

by Major A. F. Grant


Old Search is up against his most dangerous foe ... the Thugs of Gotham and their ruthless use of the strangler's cord! What dark plot leads to kidnapping and murder?


Table of Contents
  1. Joe Phenix's Ghastly Find
  2. Old Search and the New Mystery
  3. The Missing Man Turns Up
  4. A Business Beauty
  5. The Thug on Board the *Sunset*
  6. Old Search and Coppers
  7. Between Satan and the Sea
  8. Heir Or Imposter --- Which?
  9. In the Serpent's Lair
  10. Mother Mastadon's Note
  11. Old Search's Night Trail
  12. The Spotted Reptile and the Gloved One
  13. Mother Mastadon Is Plundered
  14. Jettie's Home-Coming
  15. Vulture and Vulture
  16. The Torn Confession
  17. Old Search Rouses a Tiger
  18. The Spy's Luck
  19. The Old Ferret's New Link
  20. A Sealed Secret
  21. The Beaten Thug
  22. The Emerald Link
  23. Old Search and the Viper
  24. The Last Throw of the Cord

Chapter 1

Joe Phenix’s Ghastly Find

That it was past midnight, the roan who stood nearly knee-deep in the thick, slowly-moving current of the sewer well knew.

He held in one hand a bull’s-eye lantern which he had just extinguished, and now he was listening to sounds that seemed to be borne to his ears by a breeze which stole through the disgusting darkness.

Joe Phenix knew the sewers of New York by heart.

He knew how to enter and how to quit them at all hours.

Much of his life was passed underground, and after the valuables that fell into his hands amid the darkness of the subterranean ways of Gotham.

Leaning against the wet wall of the fetid place, and inhaling the foul air that came to his lungs, Joe Phenix, sewer rat, listened.

He knew where he was.

Underneath one of the traveled streets of the great city he stood knee-deep, as we have said, in the murky fluid, that seemed to cling to his legs as it passed.

When the sewers were dry he had rats to fight, and sometimes he saw the creatures swimming about in search of food.

More than once they had attacked him, but he had escaped with a few bites.

He had seen thousands of them in the sewers of New York — had looked at them in the gleam of his bull’s-eye lantern, and had kicked them out of his way.

But how there was water in the sewer and he saw no rats at all.

Joe Phenix was a man of thirty-five.

He had seen a good deal of the world such as was bounded by the limits of New York, but beyond that but little of St.

He lived, or rather had a nest, in Doyer Street.

He had a backroom in Bottle Alley, and thither he would carry what he found in the sewers.

On this occasion Joe had been in the sewers some time.

It had been a poor night, for nothing had come to his net and he was not in the best of humor.

The black eyes of the little sewer rat twinkled when he heard the voices, for he was near a manhole, and In a flash he had “doused the glim,” and stood waiting in the darkness.

Waiting for what?

If Joe had been asked he would have said that he hardly knew.

He had waited many times for something to fall into his net, for now and then fleeing criminals had dropped rich prizes down to him and he had made money by the drop.

Joe hugged the wall of the sewer and tried to catch the words about the manhole.

All at once a match was struck at the opening and this sent the sewer rat forward.

Joe was all eyes now,

“Put it out; there’s water in the old hole,” said a voice.

In another instant the light went out, and all was as dark as before.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes. Wait a moment; it’s caught on my button. There, it’s loose now. Let it go!”

In a moment, “splash,” and some of the disturbed water was dashed into Joe Phenix’s face.

He drew back against the stones again, but made no noise.

“Shut it up now. We’re all right.”

“Caramba! I hope so. Now, come. I’m as dry as a fish.”

The manhole was closed, and the listening man in the sewer heard receding footsteps.

Something had been dropped into the sewer and he wondered what it was.

He did not uncover the light of the bull’s-eye for a few seconds, and then he sent the light over the black water.

At first it revealed nothing, and then it fell upon something lying beneath the manhole — something enveloped in a long bag, puckered at one end.

It was a grotesque-looking object to the sewer rat, and for a few moments he eyed it from his place against the wall.

“The d—l!” said Joe, with a start. “It must be dead whatever it is, and I’ve seen more than one body in the sewers.”

He pushed forward and stopped over the object.

Then he saw what a terribly human shape it had.

It lay at his feet, and the light of his little lantern fell full upon it.

Joe Phenix, for all his courage, had his weak points, and one of these was the touching of a dead body.

More than once he had found babies in the sewers, their little faces half devoured by rats; but this time he had discovered what could not be a child.

It was too large for that.

He listened for some time as he bent over the sack, now and then trying to move it with his foot, but he only disturbed the ripples of the thick tide.

“The waters not so deep at the turn,” said he, and suddenly catching hold of the find, he began to drag it down the sewer like a fisherman drags his net ashore.

Every now and then he stopped and looked back over his shoulder, as if to see whether the ghastly thing was following him, and each time he looked he shuddered.

He reached a turn In the underground river and stopped.

The tide was barely ankle deep there.

Now Joe made his light fast to his belt and began to untie the sack.

It was hard work for it had been tied for keeps, but he made headway at last.

When the last knot was opened he paused and looked up to catch his breath.

Something seemed to tell him not to look in the bag.

Pshaw! why not?

What was in there could not harm him, for he was strong and had the advantage of it.

He would look if the thing in the sack was headless.

The sewer rat pulled the top of the sack open and bent nearer.

He directed the beams of his bull’s-eye lantern into it and saw the top of a head.

“I thought so! Some dark work,” thought Joe. “Mebbe there’s been murder done. Who knows?”

He reached in and caught hold of a shoulder.

The next moment he had pulled the thing inside the sack partly out.

There was a white face with a pair of staring eyes.

Joe dropped bag and ail and fell back with a cry.

It was too ghastly for him after all.

“Why, he’s dead — as dead as a nail!” laughed Joe. “So what’s the use!” and returning to the sack, he gave it another tug and the dead man came half way out.

Then with teeth gritted Joe, the sewer rat, held the light very close to the face, he saw it was the face of a man about fifty.

It was a handsome face, despite its present ghastliness; but the features were contorted as if great pain had attended death, and the hands were tightly clinched.

Joe noticed that the hands were small and well cared for.

The few garments that clung to the body — pantaloons, shirt and waistcoat, were good and almost new.

Surely this man belonged in life to the higher walks of society.

Joe did not know him.

He did not move in high society himself, and men like the dead one never came into Bottle Alley to see him.

There was an impassable gulf between Joe Phenix and men of this stamp.

Joe took pains now to look the dead man over carefully and to note many little things which before had escaped his eyes.

He turned the pockets wrong side out, but they did not reward him.

There were no rings on the fingers, though he saw traces of one at least.

He found a mark around the dead man’s neck — a dark line as if a cord had been tightly drawn there.

This might account for the distortion in the face.

The right hand was very tightly clinched, Joe fell to opening it, a task which seemed greater than he bargained for; but at last it opened, something white dropped out.

It floated away on the water, but the sewer rat pounced upon it and rescued it before it bad time to disappear.

It was a torn card.

At first he thought of throwing it back into the water, but on second thought he held to it and thrust it into his pocket.

“I’ll look at it next,” said he, and then he went back to the body again.

“This ought to go to the morgue,” he went on. “I don’t want to be mixed up in the affair if I can help it. The next thing they’ll be suspectin’ me, and I’ve, been doing pretty well In the sewers of late. Let me see.”

He leaned against the wall and scratched his head while be collected his thoughts.

He did not care to be connected with a midnight mystery of the metropolis, for his name and his mode of life might get him into trouble, especially since he had once been arrested for appropriating to his own use some property found in the sewer.

“Hang it all, I’ll let it stay where it is,” cried Joe at last, “No, I won’t, for that wouldn’t be just right. I’ll tell my old friend, the captain, and let him do the rest. The captain’s all right and he won’t give me away.”

Joe carried the body to a spot which was almost dry and comparatively free from the invasion of rats, after which he skurried down the sewer, and at last drew himself up into the street through a convenient outlet.

“Now for the captain!” cried he. “I guess I’ll find him at home, for I saw by the newspaper the other day that he’s got back from London where he unraveled the mystery of that missing lady. He’ll be surprised to see me and to listen to my story!”

Joe bolted off and was soon knocking at a little door near Broadway.

He was asked to “come In “ by someone inside, and he entered at once.

“Hello, captain,” cried Joe with a grin, as his gaze fell upon the mas already eying him from a chair near a table. “It’s me, Joe, the Sewer Rat, and I’ve something to talk about — a new mystery for you, cap,” and Joe took the other chair as he finished.

Back to Top

Chapter 2

Old Search And The New Mystery

“A new mystery, eh, Joe?” smiled the veteran sleuth. “I would call it a new one at any rate, seeing that none of the police know it yet.”

“Then, indeed, it must be fresh; but you’ve been down in the sewers again.”

“Just came from there,” and the well-known sewer rat crossed his legs, showing the grime of the pipes. “There’s where I left the mystery.”


“Yes,” and Joe proceeded to tell the story of his startling adventure in the big sewer.

Old Search listened with rapt attention.

He did not let a single word escape him, and when the man paused he said quietly:

“Are you sure the rats won’t destroy it, Joe?”

“I think they won’t. I never saw many where I left the find. Will you go and look at it?”

“At once, Joe,” and Old Search rose and picked up his hat.

He was interested, was this man of many clews; he seemed to see that the sewer rat had brought him the beginning of another dark mystery of the great city.

In a moment the two were on the street and Joe was guiding the detective to the spot.

They dropped into the sewer and Joe lit his bull’s-eye.

“This way,” he said. “It isn’t far from here and we’ll he there In a minute.”

They passed down the disgusting place, and Joe stopped suddenly and threw the light of his glim on the ground.

“Why, it’s gone!” he cried.

Old Search leaned forward with a look.

“Gone, Joe?”

“Gone! Here’s where I left it, right here. Don’t you see where something has lain?”

Old Search saw this very plainly.

“Let’s look for it,” cried the sewer rat. “It may have been dragged off by someone. Not by the rats, of course. This way, cap.”

They looked through the sewer by the light of the roustabout’s lantern, and Joe at last leaned against the wall disappointed.

“It’s almighty strange,” said he, looking into Old Search’s face. “Never saw anything like this; someone’s stolen the corpse.”

The detective himself looked nonplused.

“We’ll have to give it up,” continued Joe. “Maybe it will come out by and by. Someone will turn up missing, you know, and then I will know from the description of the missing person whether I saw him dead in the sewer to-night.””

This seemed to be the only proper thing to do, and the pair went back.

“Mebbe they came back after the body,” said Joe.

“The parties who lowered it into the sewer?”

“Yes, mebbe you can do something with the torn card I gave you, cap. That’s a strange name on it. 1 Rafael.’ Never saw a name like it to my recollection. And the part of that other word ‘caibo.’ What can it mean, anyway?”

Old Search shook his head, and a little while later both were on the street again.

It was near daylight now.

Old Search and Joe separated, and while one sneaked back to his quarters in Bottle Alley, the other returned quietly to his den near Broadway.

“It’s very strange,” thought the detective. “Why should they come back after the body, and whither did they take it? To the river? Time may tell, and in the end it may not be so much of a mystery after all.”

Morning came.

Joe, sleeping on his bard cot in the dismal den he occupied, might have been dreaming of his encounter with the sacked corpse in the sewer.

If so his dreams were not disturbed, and daylight streamed into his room without awakening him.

The newspapers came as usual to Old Search.

He picked up one and went over it hastily.

He read first the city news, and then turned to the general intelligence.

Police news always interested this man of trails.

All at once he stopped, and his face became a study.

In headlines he read that a startling disappearance had taken place, and then he read as follows:

“Prominent Man Missing — A Fifth-Avenge Millionaire Disappears — Suspicions of Foul Play!

“Three days ago Mr. Paul Dartmoor, of No. — Fifth Avenue, left home, saying that he had a little business, over in Jersey, and that he would be back by evening. His first night’s absence was not accounted strange by bis household, but the second one alarmed them somewhat, and now that he is still missing it is feared that he has met with foul play. His niece, Miss Jettie Golden, has lodged information with the police, and the authorities are busy; with the matter.

“Mr. Dartmoor is one of the most prominent of the residents in his section of the city — a gentleman of vast wealth, much of which was acquired some years ago in South American speculation, and a man of personal magnetism and many attainments. Those who know him say that he appeared”to have no enemies, and that his business affairs are in the best condition. He is a man of about fifty, well built, with grayish hair, mustache and imperial. For years he has been a familiar figure in Wall Street, where he still keeps an office, which he visits regularly once a day, but he has not been seen there for three days.”

What lent such a spell to this paragraph for Old Search was the brief description of the missing man.

It tallied exactly with that given him by Joe Phenix of the man found in the sewer.

Old Search read it again, and seemed to fasten every word in his mind.

He had heard of Paul Dartmoor, but had never seen the man.

He knew that he was a millionaire, and that he was also a widower, occupying the great house on the avenue almost alone; but he had never had anything to do with him.

It was later In the day.

The long shadows were falling over New York, and the lights would soon be lighted.

Old Search had just entered his room, when he heard a footstep behind him.

He looked over his shoulder and saw Joe Phenix.

The face of the Sewer Rat was nearly bloodless, and his hands shook when be followed the detective into the place.

“I’ve found that dead man!” gasped Joe. “I never had such a shock in all my life.”

“Well, Joe, walk over yonder and steady your nerves. You will find wine on the shelf, but it may not be your kind of tipple.”

Joe shook his head.

“I don’t touch the stuff,” said he. “Haven’t done so, you see, for ten years. But what a shock it was!”

“Was it in the sewer?”

“Heavens, no! I would be glad to say so if it was. It wasn’t under ground this time, but right on Broadway.”

“But it couldn’t have been the same man, Joe, after the condition in which you found him early this morning.”

“Well, it was the same man! There was the same figure, the same mustache and imperial. Why, I staggered onto him unsuspectingly and the sight nearly knocked me down. It was at Broadway and Wall, the very last place I expected to see him. Lordy, I’m scared yet.”

“Did you follow him?”

“No, I was too flustered for that. It was a wonder. I had strength enough to get away from the spot. You see he was coming down Wall and I — well, I had stopped a moment on the corner and we came together. I sometimes wonder if I saw anything last night — if it all wasn’t a horrid dream of the sewers.”

“But the card, Joe? That’s something tangible.”

“Yes. What have you made out of that?”

“Nothing yet. But have you seen the newspapers?’ “No.”

Old Search hunted among the papers on his table and at last found the paragraph concerning the disappearance of Paul Dartmoor, the millionaire.

Joe read like a man in a maze.

“That’s a description of the man I found in the sewer as well as of him I ran against on the street?” said Joe.

“Maybe the one in the sewer wasn’t quite dead.”

“As dead as a smelt!” cried Joe. “I know a dead man when I see one.”

“Old Search smiled and looked away for a moment.

“Let’s go down to Wall Street,” said he.

Joe seemed to draw back.

“I’m going back to the alley,” said he. “Haven’t got a particle of spirit left in me now. Can’t you go down alone, captain? I’ll turn up to-morrow.”

“Just as you please, Joe.”

Twenty minutes later Captain Search stood among the money dens of Wall Street.

All were closed for the day, but here and there were lights in some.

He knew where Dartmoor’s office was and he sauntered in that direction.

It was a small room in a well-occupied building, honeycombed with such offices, and as he reached the steps he drew back to let a man out.

This man, as he saw him in the gaslight, was a handsome person of forty or thereabouts, with a dark face and a somewhat foreign air.

He was well dressed, and Old Search saw that on one of his hands were several rings of much brilliancy.

He passed the old ferret and went away, Old Search consulted the directory on the wall and found out where Dartmoor’s office was.

In another minute he was at the door, as he was about to knock, for he saw that a light shone i in the room beyond, the door suddenly opened and a young i girl came out.

She gave a sharp cry the moment she saw the detective, j “I beg pardon, miss,” said Old Search. “I hope I have ! given you no fright!”

“You did; that was unavoidable, but never mind it,” was the reply. “I have come to his office in hopes of finding a clew to this continued mystery. You have heard, of course? He has been missing three days and I am all unnerved.”

“Then you are Miss Golden?”

“l am his niece. I don’t know who you are, but you look honest, and I say here that there has been foul play. Paul Dartmoor has “fallen into some infamous trap. I would almost stake my life that murder has been committed. If you will walk in, I will give you my reasons for thinking thus,” and she held the door open while she looked at the old detective who, with a bow, walked into the office of the millionaire.

Miss Jettie locked the door behind him.


Additional Info

  • MBIN No: 0987
  • Length: ~ 113 pages (depending on ereader font and font size)
  • Original Publication: Old Cap Collier Library | March 15, 1895
  • Republication Date: Aug 27, 2018