The Apartment House
Nobody saw Danny Blure enter the apartment house; he had darted into the alley and gone to the service entrance. By lucky chance, he found the service hall empty. He entered the elevator, closed the door, and punched the button for a stop at the fourth floor. Danny’s bachelor suite was on the fifth.
He would have had a story ready, if seen, but it was better that he did not have to use it. When he got his bag packed now, he could go down in the service elevator; if he met the janitor, Danny would toss off a remark about wanting to cut through the alley because he was in a hurry.
The janitor would not think the move unusual. Danny Blure had been a tenant for more than three years, had always paid rent on time, and tipped generously. The janitor would not think he was skipping with a few clothes and leaving an unpaid bill.
But that was what he would be doing—skipping. Not from an unpaid rent bill. He would be skipping from the menace of violent death, which now hovered over him and seemed to press him down with an overpowering weight.
The elevator stopped at the floor. Danny tried to compose himself before opening the door. He might encounter someone here, though this was an hour when the maids would have their regular tasks done and be gone. He took a deep breath in an effort to control his trembling, tried to wipe the set look of a man in terror out of his face.
Nobody was in the little service hall. Danny went quickly and almost silently up the rear stairs to the fifth floor. Nobody was there. He peered along the hallway at the door of his own apartment; he gave a sigh of relief when he saw the hallway was empty.
So far, he was safe. Now he would hurry into his apartment and lock the door. He would pack swiftly, get down in the service elevator, walk out of the apartment house—and disappear. It would be dusk when he emerged, the best hour for safety.
Danny got his door key out of his pocket to have it ready, for he did not want to linger in the hallway a second more than necessary; one of Fox Agnew’s killers might spot him. One of those hopped-up, cold-blooded, inhuman triggermen might sneer at him and begin emptying an automatic into his body.
His hands were clammy as he hurried along the corridor. He was licking at lips dried by the heat of terror. Like a wild animal, Danny flinched at the slightest sound that might warn of danger.
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Fox Agnew’s Gang
Why had he done it? Why had he tried to go it alone? He might have known that Fox and the gang would suspect him some day, prove his guilt to their satisfaction, give him a facetious warning, then blast life out of his body.
He didn’t believe Fox Agnew knew of the little apartment be had here; Danny had two homes. One was in an apartment house in another section of the city, a place where men and women came and went much as they pleased. This one was an ultra-respectable place; it was the address on the books of the firm for which Danny worked.
In both places, he was known as a salesman of women’s expensive lingerie, which he was, really. Danny worked under his own name. His commissions gave him a splendid living, for the goods he sold were fashionable, exclusive fine merchandise at high prices. His clientele was composed of young women of fashion and social position and wealth, and older women with wealth enough to ape the younger women’s ways. And the firm for which he worked was an importing company of high integrity.
Danny called on these women by request, after their interest had been solicited by the firm itself. He was tall, and women called him handsome. He had a low, well-modulated voice that aroused thoughts of romance in women; they bought double when Danny Blure showed them his samples.
They did not know, nor did his firm, that Blure had a sideline which netted him far more than his honest commissions, and which, for obvious reasons, was not revealed on his income tax report.
Two years before, he had made the acquaintance of Fox Agnew, believing it accidental and not knowing it had been contrived cleverly by Fox. Agnew and his boys were well known to the police; occasionally one of his boys was caught wrong, and even Fox’s expensive mouthpiece could not save him. But Fox himself always escaped; the police knew, but could not prove.
Danny Blure’s acquaintance with Fox had resulted in a deal. Danny wanted money, and plenty of it. He worked in an atmosphere of wealth, and the odor of it was in his nostrils. These wealthy women to whom he sold lingerie … women with fortunes in jewels, perfume at a dollar a drop, with gowns and hats bearing Paris labels, silly women tossing money around! Their men with club memberships and yachts and seats on the Exchange! Why should they have so much and Blure so little?
Fox Agnew had whispered to him how he could get an abundance of money easily, and without danger to himself. He had only to keep his eyes open in the houses and apartments he visited on business. He had only to report certain things to Fox—where jewels were kept; how rooms were arranged; the number and habits of servants—things like that.
Fox had his working gang, both men and women, and they would do the rest. They would follow up Danny’s relayed information by making a raid. Sometimes it would be only a passkey job, and at other times a party stickup. And Danny would get his percentage in a way that would not incriminate him.
So Danny Blure became associated with the Fox Agnew gang.
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It had paid him well from the start. He kept his criminal sideline independent of his regular business. He continued to turn in more orders and build up his legitimate commissions. The more places of wealth to which he gained an entree, the more valuable information he had to send to Agnew.
But Danny Blure was of the never-satisfied type. Why take a small percentage when he could get it all? He had decided that in some cases the danger would be small; he wouldn’t try to sever relations with Fox Agnew, for that would invite suspicion and possibly disaster. But he could go it alone occasionally, take on another sideline.
In a clever hiding place in this bachelor suite of his in a respectable building, he had all the money Agnew had given him. Danny had not spent or flashed it; he had sense enough to live well within his legitimate income, so any investigation—if it ever came to that—would reveal nothing suspicious.
He wanted to amass a big stake, so he could go away to some place where he was not known and live like a young prince for a time. He had a vision of marrying some rich woman and having it easy the remainder of his life.
Fox Agnew, Blure felt sure, was a man who could not be fooled long; Fox would consider any outside moves to be rank treason, and would send his boys to exact a terrible punishment. So there remained for Danny the necessity for making one big haul. He decided he would work toward that end, would put the loot into his hiding place with the money Agnew had given him from time to time, and which he had not banked— remembering the income tax report.
Then, he would go on as usual for a time, and finally disappear, market his loot, and travel. He would be smart.
Without doubt, the police were continually watching Fox and his associates. They might possibly have the idea that the Agnew gang was responsible for a wave of jewel thefts and party holdups. As a farewell gesture, then, Danny would pin his crime on one of the Agnew gang, and keep himself in the clear.
He had contacted Fox Agnew only by telephone since their deal, and his percentages had been delivered to him in cash, small bills, by a clever method. There was nothing to link him to the gang.
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An Independent Job
The go-between Fox had contact him at times met Danny in a cafe. The go-between was nervous, and as they talked and the money was slipped to Danny, the nervous go-between pared his nails with a little gold knife.
When they parted, the go-between was careless enough to leave the knife on the table. Danny had been watching for such a chance; he picked the knife up carefully with his handkerchief and put it into his pocket.
Now he was all set for the big knock-off. He had spotted his prospective victim. She was a Mrs. Matilda Doring, a silly old woman who lived with a gadding niece, who left jewels scattered around, who ogled him and sent for him repeatedly.
Danny had been in the apartment so much that he knew it as well as the servants, who were two maids. He knew the servants’ day off duty. And he knew that Mrs. Doring was half wrecked by arthritis and had cancelled all social engagements while under medical treatment.
The right moment came. The niece was away for the weekend; Mrs. Doring would be alone on her servant’s night off. Danny knew how to get into the apartment with small risk of being seen.
He had clothing he had purchased at a second-hand store, the sort he never wore. He had a close-fitting reddish wig that would show beneath the brim of his hat. He had a thick handkerchief made into a mask, with small holes for the eyes.
It had not been difficult to get to the door of her apartment and ring without being seen. As Mrs. Doring came slowly to the door, shuffling like a half-crippled person, Blure slipped the mask up over his face. When she pulled the door open, she saw the masked man holding a gun that menaced her.
Danny was inside and had a hand clapped over her mouth before she could scream. He kicked the door shut behind him and heard the latch-lock snap into place. He thrust Mrs. Doring into her chair and stood before her, his eyes blazing, using a voice not his natural own when he spoke:
“Get me your jewels and money—quick! Hand ‘em over to me, lady! You want to go on livin’, don’t you?”
Trembling and on the verge of collapse, Mrs. Doring opened a wall safe in her bedchamber and let Danny help himself to jewels and money. He thrust the loot into a coat pocket and ordered Mrs. Doring back into the living room of the apartment.
It had been easy, he was thinking; now he had only to get out of the place and away without being seen. The apartment was on the second floor on the side of the building. Danny had come up a fire escape that extended entirely to the ground, and from the fire escape had walked into the hall and to the apartment’s front door. He would leave by the same route.
He compelled Mrs. Doring to sit in the chair again. “I’ll have to tie and gag you, ma’am,” Danny told her, in the false voice he was using.
That frightened her more than what had happened already. Her voice was raised in alarmed protest: “No-no t-that—!”
The sound of her shrill voice brought terror to Danny. In a frenzy of fear at discovery, he struck once with the gun to silence her, struck her on the side of the head. Mrs. Doring toppled off the chair to the floor and sprawled.
Danny whirled toward the door, listened there a moment, beard no sound in the hall. He stepped back and took the gold knife from his pocket and shook it out of the protecting handkerchief. The fingerprints on it would give the police a lead in the wrong direction, he thought.
He opened the door cautiously and saw the hallway empty. Removing his mask, he closed the door and hurried to the fire escape and went down it rapidly. In a few minutes he was in the dear, a distance down the street.
Fear began leaving him His pockets were stuffed with loot, but he felt sure that Mrs. Doring had not recognized him. The unusual clothes, the false voice and wig, had protected him; now, all Blure had to do was get home and store his loot in the secret hiding place.
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The following morning, he went to work as usual, his nerves quiet again. He got his samples and a list of prospects the firm furnished him, and started out. At a corner newsstand, he bought a late edition of a morning paper and scanned it rapidly as the taxi carried him toward his first customer of the day.
Terror struck him again. He read out Mrs. Matilda Doring had been found dead by one of the maids. She had been killed by a blow on her head, the report said; the wall safe in her bedchamber was open and empty of jewels and money.
Danny Blure had a sudden attack of nausea. He made a fight to control himself. He feared the taxi driver might glance in the rear-vision mirror and see the guilt in his face. He tossed the newspaper aside as if it had been something impregnated with poison.
“Changed my mind—stop at the next corner,” he told the driver.
The taxi turned in to the curb. Danny’s hand was shaking as he paid his fare and mumbled something about forgetting to attend to an important telephone call. He picked up his sample case and walked swiftly along a side street.
In a small, secluded cafe, he sat at a table and ordered a drink, and got out his prospect list and pretended to be studying it. He wanted time to think, to control his attack of nervousness. He was a killer! He had struck the old lady too hard; theft was bad enough, but now he was a killer!
He remembered the knife he had dropped. The owner of that knife had a police record, and his fingerprints were on file. It wouldn’t take the police long to pick him up. He would be blamed for robbery and not Danny Blure. If the man had even a legitimate alibi, the police would scoff and say it had been arranged in advance.
He, Danny Blure, had nothing to fear. The loot was well hidden. He would wait for a time, and then quit his job and disappear as he had planned.
Danny knew he was in no condition to visit prospective customers and take orders. He couldn’t keep his mind on his work; he wouldn’t be able to exert upon women customers the charm that brought him success. So he would simply kill the day somewhere, he decided, and return to the office with no sales to report, as happened occasionally.
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A Gun & Angry Eyes
When he did return to the office in the evening, he found on his desk an office note to call a number he did not know. Danny called it. But it was not the voice of some woman eager to buy lingerie that came to him over the wire.
It was the stern voice of Fox Agnew saying, “Listen, Danny! … You had to do a double-cross on me, did you? … Not satisfied with your percentage … Had to try it alone …!”
“Wh—what—?” Danny stammered.
“Listen to me carefully, Danny. The cops picked up one of my boys. My mouthpiece has talked to him. He’s facing a murder rap, Danny— facing the hot seat. You did that; he’s a good boy—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Danny broke in.
“Cut that kind of chatter, you punk! That knife you planted…my boy remembered he had left it on the cafe table when he parted from you. And we’ve been watching you, Danny. We’ve been a little suspicious of you.”
“But I—I don’t know—”
“Keep your ears open and your mouth shut, Danny. My boys are after you now; you’re going to get it, punk! You don’t know when or where, but you’ll get it. Maybe you’ll see a gun muzzle, and angry eyes above it, and that’s the last you’ll ever see.”
With a trembling hand, Danny replaced the phone on its cradle as the connection was broken. He was thankful nobody was near to see him, for he knew his face revealed his terror. He got out of the office and the building, glancing behind often, like a fugitive.
There was but one thing for him to do now…get home, get the loot, get out of town and keep going. He could market the jewels sometime in the future; he had plenty of cash to pay traveling expenses…
So here he was safely at home, without having been seen entering. He listened at the door of his suite as he fumbled with his key. Not the least sound came from inside. Perhaps Agnew did not know of Blure’s apartment in this respectable house; perhaps Fox’s gunmen were watching the other place.
Danny unlocked the door and pulled it open, glanced through the entry hall quickly, closed the door again and stepped into his living room.
“Freeze!” a low stern voice ordered.
Danny’s eyes focused on the muzzle of a gun that seemed to approach him and grow larger in size. A touch of light glinted from it. Danny’s body seemed suddenly ossified by shock, his mind to stand still in its thinking.
He couldn’t take his eyes from the gun muzzle. He expected to see a spurt of flame and gas through which a slug of metal would be hurled to tear the life from his body. He drew in his breath in a sharp sob.
He raised his eyes slowly, taking his sight away from the gun muzzle. He looked into another pair of eyes that glittered blackly from beneath lids almost closed—the eyes of a killer. One of Agnew’s boys, he thought. Then, Fox must have known of his apartment here.
“You…you…” Danny mouthed.
“Take it easy, and be quiet!” the man who held the gun cautioned. “You walked in on me, chum; this is a stickup.”
“Stickup—?” Danny acted like a man who did not quite understand.
“That’s right. I came in with my little passkey and went through your place, and I didn’t find much. Years ago, gents had jewelry, but now they don’t use it so much. It’s tough for a man in my line. So I’ll have to go through you and see if I can find a wallet. Face the wall, chum, and get your hands up.”
Danny was shocked by bewilderment, scarcely capable of thought and action. Only a passkey thief, and he had believed this visitor to be one of Fox Agnew’s boys. Then he had a quick suspicion that the man really was one of Fox’s gang, and that he would shoot as soon as Danny turned his back.
“No…no…” Danny muttered.
“Flatten against that wall, chum!”
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I’m No Killer
Danny reeled back the wall, put up his hands trembling as he pressed them against the wall’s surface. The man’s hands exploring his body. His wallet was taken, also the gun he wore in a shoulder holster.
“So you’re packin’ a rod,” the man said.
“I—I’m a salesman—got a permit.”
“That’s all right with me, chum. Wish I had a permit.” He tossed Danny’s gun into a corner of the room and made Danny turn and walk to a chair and sit. Standing a few feet away, he leafed through Danny’s wallet and extracted some currency.
“This haul isn’t paying me for my trouble,” he complained. ‘Let’s go into your bedroom now. I’ll have to tie you up so I can make a getaway; you’ve seen my face, and could identify me. But I’m no killer.”
Danny was compelled to go into the bedroom. He was forced to stretch out on his face while the passkey thief took off Danny’s belt and fastened his wrists behind his back with it. Then he turned Danny over and gagged him with a handkerchief. And finally he lashed Danny’s legs from feet to knees with strips from a sheet taken from the bed, and tied his ankles to the bedposts.
“That’ll keep you quiet and busy long enough for me to get away,” the passkey thief said. “Sorry, chum, but it’s your fault for walking in on me as you did.”
He left the bedroom, and Danny heard the hall door opened and closed. Stretched there, he realized that his body was bathed in cold sweat.
A surge of relief came to him, and his terror left him.
Danny was still safe. Now he could get his loot from the hiding place, pack a bag quickly, get away.
Agnew might have his boys watching the airport, so he wouldn’t try to take a plane; Blure decided to go to the edge of the city and catch a bus going in any direction, and travel until he could make a long hop by train or plane.
The passkey thief had been careless fastening his victim’s wrists with the belt, for Danny found he could reach the buckle with his fingers. It was difficult to get the buckle unfastened, but he accomplished it. He tossed the belt aside, sat up on the bed and got his legs and feet free, reeled out upon the floor.
He put on his belt, went to a small table in a corner of the bedroom and poured himself a stiff drink and downed it. Then he hurried into the living room and went to the door to make sure the latch had snapped and the door was locked.
Back in the bedroom, it took him only a moment to go get a traveling bag from a shelf in a closet. He opened dresser drawers and grabbed a few articles of clothing, hurried into the bathroom for shaving and toilet articles, and tossed them into the bag.
Now it was time to get the loot from its hiding place. He would have to work swiftly, he was thinking. Dusk would be coming in an hour, and he wanted to leave during the gathering night.
He returned to the bathroom. With a razor blade, he chipped around two of the tiles high in the wall, where the cement had been removed and soft putty substituted. He took out the tiles carefully and disclosed an aperture behind water pipes, and from this he took several packages of currency and the jewels he had removed from Mrs. Matilda Doring’s wall safe.
Working swiftly, he carried money and jewels into the bedroom and put the loot in the bottom of his bag beneath the clothing. He had no time to hide it better. To get away quickly was the thing now, before one of Fox Agnew’s boys faced him with automatic in hand.
He snapped the bag shut and started to turn toward the door of the living room.
“Freeze!” a voice said, for the second time since he had entered the apartment.
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I Can Shoot
Danny whirled, terror clutching at him again. It had been a woman’s voice. She was standing in the doorway, a well-dressed blonde whose age he guessed at about thirty. And the gun she held looked as formidable to Danny Blure as the one he had seen in the hand of the passkey thief.
“Step right into the living room,” she ordered. “And remember I can shoot.”
Danny gulped as he looked at her, obeyed as if the legs which carried him were not his own. He went into the living room and backed against the wall at her gestured order. “I’m glad to get out of that closet in your entry hall,” she told Danny. “It’s hot and stuffy in there.”
“Who are you? What do you want here?” he asked.
Fear came to him again. This was it! Agnew had plenty of women in his mob, hard-hearted molls who knew how to shoot. Perhaps Fox had sent this woman; maybe she was the sweetheart of the man who owned the knife, and had asked to be sent so she could have her revenge.
“Thanks for digging out all those jewels and that money for me,” she told Danny. “I was here when that passkey worker came, and had to hide in the closet. I saw him ransack the place and get nothing. I was only waiting for him to leave so I could get busy myself. Women are generally better searchers than men.”
“You’re a passkey worker, too?”
“Oh, no,” she replied. “The stuff you got from behind the tiles in the bathroom is what I hoped to find. I’m Magda Renton, a policewoman.”
“A policewoman—you? You don’t look like a female cop to me,” Danny told her. “Let’s get right down to business talk, Gorgeous. Maybe we can make a deal of some sort. You interest me.”
“You don’t interest me, except as a crook, and your well-known charm isn’t working today as far as I’m concerned,” she informed him. “Don’t make a move to get your gun where the passkey man tossed it into the corner! I didn’t have time to pick it up myself. Make a move toward it, and I’ll blast you down!”
Her eyes were glittering now. “I was in the WAC during the war, and learned to shoot. If further information is needed, let me relate that I hold the women’s championship for the police pistol range.”
“But…I don’t understand…” Danny gulped.
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The Doring Affair
She spoke as if discussing an ordinary event of minor interest “Oh, it’s quite simple. The Doring affair, you know. The police have had eyes on you for some time; they learned that jewel robberies followed in your wake. They witnessed some of your contacts. We had everything we need except the loot from the Doring job, to pin this murder on you. Now we have that—thanks to you for digging it out for me.”
“It’s a lie!” Danny stormed. “What’s your game? You’re no lady cop. If so, why’d they tend you here?”
“A lady cop is a little more gentle when it comes to searching than a rough copper,” she explained. “I was to search your place, and if I found nothing, leave everything shipshape so you’d not suspect we’d been prying. In that case, we’d have kept on watching you. Sergeant Doyle is downstairs; he was to phone up and warn me if you came in. So you must have slipped in the back way—more evidence of guilt, though we’d not need it now. And that cheap passkey thief—I got a good look at him, and he’ll be picked up. I’ll get a pat on the back for this day’s work.”
Terror had seized Danny Blure with a terrible grip this time. He could not reach his gun in the corner ; and he sensed she would surely shoot him if he made a hostile move. Terror of death was upon him—not from the muzzle of a gun held by one of Fox Agnew’s boys, but death in the electric chair.
Watching him carefully, holding the gun ready for quick use made a move, she stepped to the phone and spoke below: “Please tell Sergeant Doyle to hurry up here. I’ve got Danny Blure and the loot from the Doring job.”
Sagging against the wall, all strength drained from him, watching her as she watched him with keen eyes, Danny waited.
~ The End ~
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By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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