Jimmy Dolan, No. 7774, must be on his best behavior if he’s going to get out of the big pen, verify the message and exact revenge on the man who snitched.
Through that mysterious subterranean news channel that links every big penitentiary with the rendezvous of crooks in the outside world, a message had come to a man who had long since lost his identity in the number, “7774.”
The message was brief, but it spoke volumes to the convict. It had come from a pal, a former companion in the old days, who had shared in many a job that had required finely sandpapered fingertips to insure mastery over the tumblers of a safe.
Convict No. 7774 had come to number the days when good behavior would end a five-year sentence in less than four. He had planned and resolved, as many men before him down aeons of time, to allow no act or influence to deviate him from a life of honesty. But the message changed him. It set another purpose; made the days seem ages longer than before, although the man could count the nearness of liberation on one hand.
The day of his release came—a day with a dull-drab sky overhead, a day that enveloped his being in the purpose at hand.
Creeping stealthily along a passageway that admitted no light save that which came through a barred window in a door at its end, Quong Wong, a fence for crooks, and keeper of an opium den, listened until a signal for entrance had been repeated with unmistakable distinction. Only until then did the Oriental approach near the door and open it slightly to scrutinize the features of his nocturnal visitor.
“It’s me, Quong,” a voice whispered, “Jimmy Dolan—don’t you know me?”
The Oriental continued to stare. He knew the face only too well, but if he recognized the man, he gave no indication.
“Come on, Quong; let me in. You know me. I come your place all the time—long time ago—you remember—got arrested here—sent to San Quentin. Remember?”
After a moment, the Oriental asked: “You in trouble?”
“No—no trouble, Quong. Why you ask?”
The Oriental did not answer. He drew back and allowed the white man to enter. The visitor strode down the passageway with a quick, nervous step. At the other end he admitted himself to a dimly lighted room, where a row of bunks on each side gave it the unmistakable identity of an opium den. The Oriental followed quickly behind him.
“Where’s the gang, Quong?” asked the man.
“All gone,” was the reply. Then, after a pause: “Police-a-man come, raid. Slim, him get catched; the kid, too.”
The name “kid” smote upon the white man, and if the Oriental had noticed he would have seen his eyes narrow.
“What’d they get the kid for?”
“Police-a-man say break safe.”
“He lies—some one snitched!” And the white man’s attitude for the moment was menacing. Quickly he recovered himself.
“Who stooled?” he persisted, and his eyes bored through the Oriental until the slant-eyed heathen had to shift his gaze.
“No understand.” The Oriental has fortified himself behind two English words which furnish an impenetrable barrier for further questioning when the wily yellow race chooses to evade cross-examination.
The white man shifted on his feet. “Come on, Quong, get the layout; I haven’t had a smoke in ages. Quit a five-year sentence this morning, cut to three and a half.”
The Oriental went to a closet and returned with a large tray and a thick pipe. The white man took off his coat and prepared to smoke. The Oriental watched the man’s every move—all but one. Had his eyes remained on the white man, he would have seen a quick substitution of the opium to a harmless, hard substance, with the same pungent smell as the deadly drug, that went into the pipe instead. The white man stretched himself on a lower bunk, and, drawing deeply on the pipe, dropped off into the apparent lethargy that the juice of the poppy brings to its slaves.
Satisfying himself that his visitor had gone to the land of dreams, the Oriental stole quietly from the room. If he had turned, he would have caught the white man’s eyes following his movements. Half an hour elapsed. The white man never moved. Then the Oriental came back into the room. A figure followed him closely, but neither spoke.
“Him same dead,” the Oriental said, after a silence, before which the newcomer had gone to the side of the sleeping man and raised an eyelid. “Him no smoke four years—sleep much now,” the Chinaman continued.
“All right, Quong,” the man spoke for the first time, “keep an eye on that bird and let me know every time he comes here. We don’t want him now, but you can never tell. He’s only out a day. Give him time. He’ll go back to a moral certainty. Thanks to you, Quong, his pal has a home in Folsom for a bit that’ll keep him out of mischief for fifteen years. Clever job, Ouong. Without the tip we’d never’ve got him. This bird ought to be at Folsom with him. Quong”—and the man started toward the door—“you’ve sent more crooks to the pen than the whole department. Might drop in later when this bird comes to. Want to break the news that the kid has gone on a long journey.” Glancing back in the direction of the man who lay sleeping, he passed through the door.
An hour later, Detective Jos Goss, of the San Francisco Chinatown squad, rapped a signal on a door of a house in Wakeley Alley. There was no response. Then he tried the door and found it open. Groping his way along a passageway, he stumbled over a body. Stooping, he took an electric flash light from his pocket, and the first thing its bright rays disclosed was a pool of blood; then the still, white face of Quong Wong.
The detective didn’t stop to notify the morgue—there was more important business at hand. In twenty minutes a police net had been spread throughout the city for Jimmy Dolan, ex-convict, and, until that same morning, known as convict No. 7774.
It was almost dawn when Goss was summoned to the city hospital. At the door of the accident ward, he was met by a plain-clothes man.
“We got him, Goss, but he put up an awful fight. The doc says he’s done for—light’ll go out any minute now.” Stepping over to the bedside of the wounded man, Goss bent over him. Dolan opened his eyes when the detective spoke to him.
“You’re going to die, boy. Why did you do it?”
“I should worry,” the dying man gasped, “for I got that dirty yellow snitch.”
~ The End ~