For Moriarity, it had been almost as hard to walk from the condemned cell to freedom by way of the main entrance as it would have been to take that other walk through the little door that leads to the electric chair. He had suffered all that a man can suffer who faces a horrid death. The last of a once iron nerve had been put into the task of dressing himself in his execution garments and when the order for a new trial had been read to him, the once powerful gang leader had silently crumpled in a heap on the floor.
He was all in—through—done for as surely as the electric chair could have finished him. Never again would he be able to hold a gun in his hand to take his place as the undisputed king of his world. They would not let him. He might try it but he knew they would find him out.
No man could hold his position, he told himself time after time, who had been through what he had endured. Try as he did to hide it, he knew that his old slaves and subjects had seen him tremble during the ridiculously easy second trial of his case. Even the assurances of his lawyers that it was "all fixed," that his acquittal was a "sure thing," could not sustain him. He could not keep his hands from shaking and the muscles of his face from working. The brazen effrontery of his stare, the menace of his squared shoulders, was gone. He had stammered as he told his prepared lie on the witness stand and he knew that his old henchmen were shaking their heads behind his back as they accompanied him in a sort of damp jubilation from the courtroom and back to the old rendezvous.
What a farce it had been when, after the first rounds of drinks had been drunk to his return, Jeff Hardy had in formal argot surrendered his place as regent and formally handed him his old pistol as a token of renewed leadership of the gang. Leader? Why, he knew and they knew and he knew they knew he knew that he was not fit to be even an apprentice in that company of blood and steel. Every night for a week after that he could see in the darkness above his bed the sneer in the smile on Hardy's face as he "surrendered" the leadership which he had already found so sweet. Surrendered it? No wonder Jeff had sneered at the very idea.
Moriarity had been a real leader of men. Guided into the realms of some great manufacturing enterprise, politics or finance he would have been as great as he had become in the world of violence and crime. Instead of the master of the men who work in steel or coal or gold, Fate had decreed that he should become the master of men who deal in crime. And just as disaster overtakes great leaders in great industry, so had disaster overtaken him on the night when "Sailor" Bradley had dared dispute his pre-eminence and met the death the code demanded.
No one in the underworld doubted who had killed Bradley. Moriarity was alive the next morning and Bradley was dead. That was evidence enough. But there was considerable surprise when the leader of the "Woodchucks" was sentenced to death for murder. Every resource was assembled to prevent his execution and obtain his freedom and these weapons had triumphed. They had brought back their leader but found they had only a weakling in his stead.
Why, there had been tears in his eyes when the verdict of his acquittal was read in court. Twice he had been seen faltering in his step as he came from the loft building in which the "Woodchucks" had their clubroom. He started at the slightest sound of anything like a pistol shot. And—worst of all—he refused to carry a gun.
That was the situation during two weeks following the old leader's return. Then, on a Sunday morning, Terence Moriarity, bright-eyed, square of shoulder, spring in his step and a smile on his face, had gleefully pummeled two new members of the gang who accidentally blocked his path, hurled a bottle through a clubroom window and undisputedly resumed his sway.
The night before, as all of the world that mattered to him well knew, Jeff Hardy had screamed Moriarity's name as he died and the old leader had automatically been crowned anew.
It did not matter so much to the "Woodchucks" how Hardy had died. That was a matter for the police to find out. The police did—to their own satisfaction at least—but Moriarity merely smiled at the sensation their theories caused. He still refused to carry a gun but he still led the "Woodchucks," more feared and respected than he ever was and with confidence that his path of glory need not lead a man of intelligence again to the death house.
Jeff Hardy's body had been found at the bottom of the elevator shaft in the old loft building in which his gang occupied a portion of an upper floor. Without doubt he had fallen or been hurled six stories to the concrete pit below. That he had not committed suicide was certain. There was no reason why he should in the first place and in the second place two reliable witnesses swore they had heard him cry "Damn you, Moriarity," as he fell.
Moriarity had been arrested, of course, but released almost at once, because policemen as well as eminently respectable citizens had seen him a block away from the building at the same time that Hardy's scream was heard by the night watchman and elevator man of the building.
It had taken some time to drag Hardy's body from the pit and identify it. This caused a delay, but even at that the police admitted they probably would have been unable to make out a case against the old leader no matter how rapidly they worked.
Captain Bush, who knows probably as much about gangsters and gang politics as any police officer in the city, had ordered the arrest of Moriarity as soon as he heard of Hardy's death. He did that even before he knew that the old leader was the last man seen with the new chieftain. He was also the one who recommended the discharge of the prisoner the next morning.
"There are more ways than one of killing a cat," Captain Bush remarked philosophically to some of his newspaper friends, "and the law doesn't keep up with all of them."
"But you admit Hardy was alone when he fell down the elevator shaft," persisted one of his questioners. "Why do you think he was killed?"
"He was killed as surely as Terence is again king of the Woodchucks," replied the police veteran. "He was killed because Moriarity had lost his nerve. He was killed in the way he was because of the long nights Moriarity had spent in the death house, by a man who knew that if Hardy was killed by a shot he would walk through the little door instead of the big one on his second trip from his cell. He was killed by a man with brains and that imagination which had made him a tamed slayer.
"I know what happened as surely as I know I am sitting here, but there would be no use in going into court with it.
"Hardy had openly challenged the old leader's authority. Everybody knows that. Even the boys on the street were mocking Moriarity. He had wept in court. He had been seen twice walking unsteadily out of the building, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief and seeming to be half blinded by tears. Once the elevator man had to help him to the street. Everybody in the district knew about it. He was in pitiful terror at the thought of the time when Hardy would pull a gun on him and challenge him to fight it out. He knew that when that time came he would either have to go back to the death house, be killed by Hardy or disappear. There wasn't much choice. One was as bad as another for him. So, like the man of brains he is, he discarded all three of the obvious alternatives and found a fourth way out of the meeting he knew would have to come.
"It came last Saturday night. The two of them were alone in the clubroom. Not a man in the gang would have dared to stick his nose inside the door. They knew there would be no question about who their leader was before morning and there wasn't one of them within a mile of the place.
"The elevator man and the night watchman both heard them quarreling. They didn't hear the words, but we don't need them. Hardy taunted Moriarity to try to make him pull a gun. He had two—one his own and another for Moriarity in case he had none of his own. This second gun was loaded with blanks.
"There were two flasks in the room. One had gin in it and was still half full. The other was broken on the floor when Moriarity dropped it as Hardy pulled his gun and called upon him to fight.
"After dropping the flask, Moriarity walked out of the room and down the stairs, wiping the tears from his eyes as he had been seen doing twice before. The watchman saw him. The elevator man was on the top floor with his car. Moriarity had sent him there to put a new bolt on the roof scuttle. He swears the door at the club floor was closed when he went up—but elevator men always say that. Anyway the light was burning in the hall. That's all he knows until he heard Hardy scream."
"But how, then, did Moriarity kill him?" a reporter asked as the captain relighted his cigar.
"Ever hear of this new tear gas?" the policeman questioned. "That's what was in the other flask."
"But wouldn't it blind Moriarity, too?"
"It did. But he had experimented until he could find his way out of the building in spite of it. The effect wears off in a few minutes and by the time he had reached the corner he was merely crying a few tears and had his alibi all made to order. Meanwhile Hardy was blundering about until he found the elevator door and fell to his death.
"An act of Providence, I suppose the law might call it, but it was really the act of a damned clever devil."
~ The End ~