The Make-up Box
With a rustling flirt of her skirts and a sharp upward, tilt to her chin, Mavis Pickering flounced out of the dressing room.
"I'm done — through — finished," she announced with emphatic finality; and, in affirmation of her resolve, she took a firmer grip on the battered cash box that was tucked under her arm.
This box, the high sign of the profession, contained no loose change and bank notes, but a mixed, untidy collection of grease paints, rouge, powder, eyebrow pencils, lip salve, and other things required for the beautifying of a chorus girl. And if Mavis had not become angry at the stage manager and described him to his face as a sawed-off monkey, and if she had not grabbed her make-up box and left the theater in a rage and a hurry, there would have been no confusion, fuss, or happening out of the ordinary.
"Bye, Sammy," said Mavis as she passed through the narrow cubby-hole occupied by the stage doorkeeper. "I'm on my way."
The girl accompanied this farewell with a smile and a light laugh. Although her surface appearance of freedom from all cares and responsibilities endured until she had left the vicinity of the theater, Mavis soon found her anger cooling to an uncomfortable and chill sensation of fear. By the time she reached Thirty-Second Street, there was an expression of anxiety in her large gray eyes, and a pathetic droop to her undeniably pretty mouth.
Assertion of independence sometimes carries with it a penalty, and, conscious that she had acted without forethought, Mavis entered a lunch room. She placed her make-up box on a chair and ordered coffee and pie, but the coffee grew lukewarm before she reached any decision regarding future means of providing herself with the cash necessary to pay for her room and board.
She had in her purse three dollars and ninety cents, and she wore on her fingers and wrists some glittering rings and bracelets. The jewelry, alas, was only nearly real. It looked all right, but the hardhearted Shylock who lives at the sign of the three balls is not taken in by a thin wash of gold on base metal. A pawnbroker has no use either for synthetic diamonds and rubies. He wants, and gets, full and adequate security for every cent he doles out.
"Yet," reflected Mavis, with tardy sorrow, "to-day is Wednesday, and on Saturday I'll have to pay nine dollars for my room. I've had my say-so, thrown up my job. Now—"
At this distressing point the girl looked up and her wandering gaze met the eyes of a smirking, pimply complexioned youth seated at an adjacent table. He leered and showed a row of grinning fangs; then he favored Mavis with a repulsive appraising look of approval.
"Fresh beast he is," was the girl's mental comment. Launching a parting glare of disapproving, haughty contempt at the would-be masher, she paid for her pie and coffee and left the lunch room without her make-up box.
He of the poor complexion was in no wise perturbed by the girl's rejection of his wordless invitation to become acquainted, but when his sidelong glance assured him that she was indeed gone and out of sight, he stepped nimbly across the floor. His acquisition of the cash box was an easy matter, and he started for the door with an impudent swagger of proprietary right to Mavis' make-up box. He started, but—
"Slick — but a low-down, yaller-dog, mean trick,'' said a voice. "Thought nobody was watchin' you gogglin' at that girl, eh? Well, next time you try to pull off any mashin' and sneak-thief tricks, make sure there ain't somebody around reading a newspaper with a hole in it. Which is it to be, a bash on that thing you call a nose, or a hand over of that box?"
Spotty-face backed away from this rough-spoken, interfering stranger, but before he did so he thrust out the cash box.
"I was going to run after her with it," he said, with quick cunning.
"And I'll save you the trouble," retorted the other. Grabbing the box, he left Spotty-face cursing in futile viciousness.
With commendable intentions, the new guardian of the girl's property started after her in haste, but before he had gone three blocks in the direction she had taken downtown, the unexpected developed and put a temporary check on the stranger's intentions. Mavis Pickering had pleased his sense of beauty, and the unsavory youth's behavior had roused his chivalry, but even for a pretty girl there are limits to what a man will do.
"Dashing Dick! Whadder you doing with that cash box?"
These actual, challenging words were unheard by the stranger; but he saw a square-shouldered, hard-jawed man crossing the street. In that one glimpse, he read a determined "purpose and a large query expressed in the man's keen and cold gray eyes. He saw that he was recognized and suspected of having committed a daring robbery.
There are some men who cannot show themselves without being given the "double O," when spotted by a detective, and Dashing Dick had a past that rendered it an awkward matter to contemplate explaining his possession of that box. He didn't know what it contained, and didn't believe it held anything of value; but knowing that his tale of the manner and reason he had taken charge of the box would be scoffed at, Dick decided to let its fair owner wait, and look after his own skin.
He darted for the doorway of a nearby office building, and was fortunate enough to reach the elevator before the figure of the detective darkened the entrance. It was Dick's first intention to go up to the tenth or eleventh floor, traverse the long corridor that he knew ran the whole length of the building, and then descend by another elevator. But it was his habit to foresee the actions of others ere they were consummated, and before the elevator reached the third floor Dick did some quick thinking.
"Bradley is on my trail. Isn't it the most likely and probable thing that he will make a bee line for the other exit?"
While weighing this problematic point, Dashing Dick looked down at the box, and for one brief instant he thought of abandoning it and pursuing his way unhampered; but a sporting, stubborn streak urged him to take a chance. Besides, he wanted the opportunity to get a closer look at the girl's eyes. Were they blue or gray? She was tall, slender, graceful. She was — well, she was a girl decidedly worthwhile rendering a service to.
"I've got her coin-box, and I don't know her name or anything," thought Dick. "Third floor," he snapped.
Dick caught a descending elevator almost at once. His hunch that the detective was watching the other exit proved a winner.
At the corner of the block Dick bought a newspaper, rolled it carelessly round the cash box, and chartered a taxi. He drove to a hotel and sought the seclusion of a room that he had hired for no other purpose but to open the box and see if he could find the name and address of the girl. The lock yielded to the persuasion of a little tool that Dick was an adept at manipulating, and he raised the battered lid.
"Grease paint! So, she's a stage girl! What's this?"
From a conglomerate mass of broken sticks of make-up, tubes, and rouge-stained powder puffs and hairpins, Dick disentangled a roll of crumpled paper.
"Heavy," he muttered as he shook it open, and stared in amazement at what fell out.
One by one he picked up a number of rings. He examined them with the eye of an expert.
"The genuine thing," he said, with a gasp. "Seven of 'em. This beats all. Five thousand bucks' worth of diamond and ruby rings. Gee, what a scoop that guy in the lunch room would have made! And what a chance I took when I butted in! Bradley would have nailed me for unlawful possession, an' I'd have gone up for pullin' a stunt that I never knew I was onto. Seven beauts, hid away in a lot of female junk. That might have been a good looker, but I'm sure the stuff she had on in the jewelry line was all phony. What's the answer?"
A host of questions to which he could find no answer buzzed in Dashing Dick's brain, and the more he considered his position, the less he liked it. Hitherto Dick had always planned his affairs. Accident, chance, and a reliance on good fortune had never played a part in his way of acquiring a living. Here, laying in the palm of his hand, was a small fortune. Were the rings the girl's property, or had she stolen them! Was that the reason for her worried air? Was the pimply-faced youth a confederate?
Questions without answers — a mystery without a key! Dick searched again for some clew to the girl's identity; then, finding nothing, he pocketed the rings, shut the box, and decided to spend the night in the hotel and let events take their course for awhile. He scented danger, but couldn't see where and how it was coming to him.
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For half an hour following Mavis Pickering's abrupt departure from the theater, there was the usual period of bustle that follows the final drop of the matinee curtain. Then came an unrehearsed sensation. The star toe dancer came out of her private dressing room with a jump and a succession of shrieks of bereaved dismay. Hubbub and confusion ensued. There was a hasty search for the seven rings that the star asserted had been stolen and were valued at twenty thousand dollars. The management was faced with the loss of half a season's profits, and the police wert notified of the robbery.
In the subsequent inquiry that followed, the stage manager remembered that Mavis Pickering had quit before the last act. The inference was obvious, damning, Mavis had faked the quarrel for the purpose of getting at the star's property when all hands were on the stage. Mavis was the thief. A detective hurried hot-foot to her boarding house. Of course he didn't expect to find the girl there, but he might be able to pick up her tracks.
The detective found his first surprise when he met the placid, unruffled gaze of Mavis as she came into the sitting room. Apart from her attitude, the mere fact of the girl being there at all argued that she was either innocent or a mighty clever crook. On the basis of never believing a person innocent until they are proved not guilty, the detective cross-examined the girl respecting her movements since she had left the theater. From smiling, amused interest Mavis passed to a condition of outraged dignity.
"Evidently," she observed, following the detective's meticulous and searching catechism, "you have made up your mind I have those rings. Why don't you arrest me, put on the bracelets, as you call them, and take me off to a cell? I'm willing. Wrongful accusation will give me a good case for damages. I'm out of a job, and a few thousand dollars will come in very handy to see me through the winter."
"I have made no accusation that you have taken the rings," said the detective, "but if I may, I'll search your room."
"Go as far as you like. I'll wait here," said the girl.
The detective's search was nothing but a formality. He returned to the sitting room after a short absence. Then, however, he posed an awkward, pertinent question, and all of his suspicions returned with redoubled force.
"I did not see your make-up box," he remarked. "You brought it from the theater."
"Where is it?"
"I don't know."
Mavis Pickering's statement was followed by a flush that the sleuth interpreted as evidence that she was concealing something. When she told him that she had left the box in the lunch room, and had gone back and failed to find it, the detective smiled meaningly.
"A good story," he remarked dryly. "Who's your friend?"
Tears of mortification trembled on the girl's lashes.
"I tell you," she protested, "I didn't go near the star's dressing room. My make-up box was stolen, but there was nothing in it of any value."
"That may be," said the detective, "but all the same I must ask you to come with me to the station. It is possible that we may have a photograph of the young man you mentioned. Even if we can't find the jewels, we can at least try to get your box back. There's no reason why a nice young lady like yourself should lose her make-up."
The man's words and tone were suave enough, but there was a nasty suggestion about his manner that he disbelieved her. Mavis bit her lip and surrendered to the compulsion of circumstance.
When they reached the street, Mavis discovered that the robbery had already become a matter of public interest. She saw the headlines on the first news stand she passed. Under one pretext and another, Mavis was kept at the station for over two hours, and, during her stay, another and very thorough search of her room and an investigation of her antecedents were made. At the fag end of this fruitless inquiry, Detective Bradley came in. Although his story conflicted with the girl's description of the youth who had annoyed her, it substantiated the belief that she had been acting with a confederate.
"Depend upon it," declared Bradley, "she passed that box on to Dashing Dick — though for the life of me I can't figure it out, him being such a dub as to carry it on the street with him. It beats me the fool slips some crooks will make. Get him, and we'll get the rings."
In this advance opinion, the detective overstepped the bounds of good prophecy. For three days they hunted high and low for Dashing Dick, and for the same period of time a close but unobtrusive watch was kept on Mavis. Then came another surprise that knocked the bottom out of the theory that Mavis was a thief. The real culprit confessed. It was the star's personal maid, and she had placed the rings in Mavis Pickering's box in case her mistress discovered her loss before she had a chance to leave the theater.
Naturally enough the maid had not anticipated that Mavis would leave before the usual hour and carry off the hidden booty. Hence the miscarriage of her plans and the complications introduced by Spotty-face.
On the evening of the third day a reward of a thousand dollars was announced, and within half an hour of this inducement Mavis received a parcel by special messenger. She phoned the police immediately that her makeup box had been returned.
The rings were not in it.
At half past nine the same evening Dashing Dick showed himself at the stage door and demanded admittance.
"No 'phonin' or yelpin' for the cops," he warned the doorkeeper. "Just you pass me along to the dame that put up the thousand simoleons for the recovery of her rings. I may know where they can be found, and if she comes across on the level there's a ten-spot in it for you. Do I go in?"
Dick did, and when he gave over the rings, he held out the other hand for the money. When he returned to the doorkeeper's cubby-hole, there was present a cold-eyed individual.
"'Low Brad," said Dick amiably. '"Have a smoke. No? Well, come an' have a drink. I'll stand anythin' you like from a soda to a quart of wine." Following his genial invitation, Dick pulled out his bulky wad of bank notes and flicked a ten across to Sammy the doorkeeper.
"Say," grunted Detective Bradley, "how'd you get hold of that box?"
"Took it away from a low-down sneak thief," said Dick virtuously.
"And the rings?"
"Rings?" repeated Dick vaguely. "Oh, I found 'em. Picked 'em up in the street. Bit of luck, eh? Well, s'long, ole top."
With a regretful glance, Detective Bradley watched the going of the man that he had never been able to nail.
"That's over," he said, with a sigh. "Dick'll have a high old time for a month or so an' blow the lot in."
Again was the detective wide of the mark, for Mavis Pickering was visited that night by another special messenger and a load of financial worry dropped from her mind.
The thick envelope contained five hundred dollars and a short note. The bold, clear writing was expressive of Dashing Dick.
I like your style. You're on the level. So am I — sometimes. Best of luck. — D. D.
~ The End ~
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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